Friday, 9 October 2009

Two words that changed my mind on Europe

IN June 1975, when Britain held its only nationwide referendum to date, I was a few weeks too young to take part.
My girlfriend at the time, four months older than I was, voted No to the question: “Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?”
We were both very interested in politics and seldom differed on the subject. The Europe question was the one major issue on which we didn’t see eye to eye – and it rankled with me that she could vote and I couldn’t.
Politics, incidentally, seemed a lot more genuine, a lot more visceral, then than it does now. I don’t think the difference is entirely that I was then an eager teenager and have now reached jaded middle age.
I think politics itself has become jaded and flabby. Once there was trust, belief, ideas – or so it seemed, at least. Now they’re all Tories at heart.
But the point is Europe. I believed in it then, and I believe in it now. At least, I did until this week.
I was unconvinced by the No campaigners in 1975, even though they included my greatest political heroes of the time, Tony Benn, Michael Foot and Barbara Castle.
I was unconvinced by the Tory Euro-sceptics of the 1980s and 90s. They always seemed to have blundered in from a Monty Python sketch.
I’m certainly not swayed by the UKIP bunch, whose idea of an attack on the gravy-train is to hop on board.
There are, of course, things I don’t like about Europe and its decision-making. There are always bound to be in any government or legislative body.
But overall, I have always been a European, intellectually and emotionally.
For so many reasons, for the UK to be a vital, functioning part of Greater Europe has always seemed to me to be a Good Thing. Until now.
And the argument which has changed my mind? The prospect – or threat – which has me doubting the whole notion of the European Union as an appropriate entity?
Just two words.
The first is “President”. And the second is “Blair”.


REACTION to my piece here last week about climate change has mostly been positive. So much so that it seems I’m not the only one round here who uses the same water bottle over and over again.
One reader in Portugal (who’d have thought it?) is puzzled, though.
Fatima wrote to me: “You talk about the climate changing, the water and the effects on the Earth. I quite agree. We must do something! As soon as possible.”
But she added: “I’ve listened to a talk show where college professors defended the idea that the effect of man on climate change was minimal. That nature itself has all the credit.
“I was quite shocked. Scientists seemed divided. Who is right on this subject?”
There seem to me to be two points worth making here.
The first is that if science is genuinely divided, we have a choice – a gamble we can take.
Imagine you’re standing on a railway line and someone yells that there’s a train speeding towards you. What do you do? Stand still and argue the point, or get off the line just in case they’re right?
The second point is that I don’t believe the scientific community is really all that divided on the issue anyway.
I think there are a few scientists who disagree to some extent or another with the majority. And because the media is obsessed with providing “balance”, those few get much more attention than their views deserve.
And why do the nay-sayers dispute what the vast bulk of available evidence seems to be telling them?
Is it simply that their thinking is woolly and wishful?
Either that or they’re paid, directly or indirectly, by vested interests such as the oil industry.
Whose barons would apparently rather see us all go to hell in an oil-burning handcart than see a dip in their bottom line.


LAST week I wrote: “It’s much easier to believe in an uninhabitable Earth than a habitable moon.”
To which a scientist replies: “Absolutely so. It would be very much easier to repair the Earth’s ecosystem than to create a new one on the moon or another planet – that is, only impossibly difficult rather than totally unbelievable.
“Even a damaged, globally warmed Earth would be a very much better starting point than any other body in the solar system.
“Not that I think the Earth will actually be uninhabitable. It’ll only be a difficult place to live, incapable of supporting more than a few per cent, if so many, of its current human population.”
So that’s all right, then.

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