Another Europe seen from the Magic Bus
‘A view of nature as dense and non linear is at the core of our contemporary science. Process and order emerge subtly’.
(Gregory Benford, American Physicist)
Want the real EU? Let’s walk a while…
When I was 19 years old, I took my first ever trip on a magic bus. There were no heavenly blues involved mind you. Just a beaten up coach, a reserve ticket, and a nod from a wee woman who sat behind the perspex window of a depot in Kifissou Street. Her nod confirmed the rumours. Rumours like it was fast, this ‘magic bus’ going as it did from Athens to London, and taking no more than five days straight. The rumours proved to be true. But the magic part came from spending a week upright on the kind of coach seats that make sleep and wakefulness all part of the same perpetual state. And it was in this state that I caught my first glimpses of another Europe. Glimpses which felt strange in the most familiar of ways, like passing through Austria in the pissing rain, or seeing the Alps for the first time at night, reflected in a road sign that advertised kleenex, or playing snap with a kid in Macedonia, while I drank orangina, and he cracked his knuckles. These are the things that stayed with me, as my head bumped up against the glass, and began to colour the dreams of a Europe that I wanted to know better.
But as the campaign on the EU begins to gather pace. And certain political parties and commentators plough down familiar highways indifferent to the safety or future of the electorate aboard. I’m reminded of that trip, and maybe the reasons why some give up the wheel on a political entity, that’s undoubtedly challenging to traverse alone. After all, the EU is immeasurable. What with its vast convergent evolution, its 500 million population, its intricate legislative influence which stretches out across 28 member states. Try to cordon off a chunk of it, and maybe you’ll find yourself lost, like I did, in a wilderness of treaty ratifications. Only to emerge two days later with a bad gut and an intimate knowledge of the phrase ‘opt out’. Try to map it, own it, climb to the ultimate vantage point and paint it as being either simply left or right, and either position could be true. After all, nothing says right-wing like the ongoing austerity measures forced on Greece by the Troika or by the covert nature of the early negotiations surrounding TTIP on behalf of the European Commission. But then again nothing says social democracy as much as the success of EU legislation such as the ‘interpretation of the European Convention as a living instrument’ or The Human Rights Act.
So where does that leave us? Stumbling about in a no man’s land as two ideological positions slug it out, perhaps.
It’s certainly the kind of territory we’re used to. In a place where the carefully constructed politics of conflict, has ravaged the ideological landscape of this country for almost 70 years. A place where the hereditary beneficiaries of these conflicts have learnt from the mistakes of their predecessors, avoiding the rivers of blood commentary, to give us a clean-cut economic breakdown of racism instead.
For those sleeping up the back, this formulaic summary might well work. After all, they haven’t yet lived or rather awoken to the reality of the politics of blame, bigotry and hatred in their towns, in their streets, in the faces of people they know. And then there are those, of course, who know the “economic truth” of why we should stay in Europe. But I wonder how many of us will recognise the use of immigration as a scapegoat for the historical dysfunction that’s led us here. I wonder if anyone will take action, stop the bus, get off and take a good hard look at the mechanism that drives this form of politics. If they did, maybe they too would recognise the same political characteristics that Norman Davis once did when he wrote of “British” identity in the wake of post-imperial politics, and as the first sightings of a new Europe were made.
‘Post war British politics had to cope with a personality whose traditional identity was quietly disintegrating… [i]…governed by the swings of a two-party Westminster system, by the stop go performance of the economy, and above all by Britain’s long search for a post imperial role’
(Norman Davis, Europe: A History)
Davis was writing of a “Britain” that like other post-colonial empires, didn’t just have to cede its territories, but dismantle a collective conception of itself as being imperial. That this process was drawn-out, conflictual and violent is well documented. Though still contested by contemporary writers such as Lawrence James who prefer to dismiss a whole history of subjugation and dominance as anomalous. While continuing to stake an imperial claim on any fragments of humanity left over,as being merely evidence of a collective British identity, and thus symbolic of the influence of Empire as a whole.
This benevolent “Britain” never truly existed and any human qualities that James calls the best of British never really belonged to the Empire that created it. We know that. But the dream is ongoing. And its hallucinogenic effects are manufactured throughout certain dealers of “British Culture”. Where every program, on what feels like every subject, is firmly stamped “British” first, where the birthdays, anniversaries and hypothetical opinions of an unelected woman called Mary Windsor are poured over on current affair programs, and where a plethora of writers just like Lawrence James continue to peddle the Empirical fantasy that fuels it all.
But the reality, for those who can afford it is the ultimate trip to the old Empire. Where the need to win, conquer, dominate and subjugate is still thriving and still rewarding those who display these characteristics, in their institutions, on the playing fields of Eton, in the debating halls of Oxford and Cambridge, and finally in the chambers of the House of Commons. A place where today’s political reality of state driven conflict and division, counters Davis’s claim that the search for an alternative post colonial identity ever took place.
This broken spare part of a corroding political ideology grates horribly within any mechanism for social democracy. You can feel its potential to hinder the development of the EU throughout Britain’s involvement within it. It was present when Margaret Thatcher hollered ‘No no no!’ in the House of Commons to the proposed Single European Act of 1986, It was there in 1992 when John Major opted out of The Social Chapter. It surfaced again in 2001 in relation to the UK protocol to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. And again in David Cameron’s 2011 refusal to impose EU regulations on London banks. And then there’s Johnson, Farage, Gove and Duncan Smith.
But even the world-wide conservative movement, with its warped drive to cloak this dysfunction in the flag of democracy, is not the greatest threat to the future of the European Union as a whole. Maybe the greatest threat to social democracy in Europe comes in the damage that it continues to do to us. Because we know how destructive the remnants of an imperial ideology are, lodged deep within the psyche of the conservative right-wing. We know it. We’ve felt it. We’ve fought it. We’ve been fighting it for hundreds of years. But constant fighting, constant countering of bigotry, racism, greed, and the imperial conditioning of conflict takes its toll. In this ideologically construed state of being. It’s easy to understand why politics becomes synonymous with conflict, and conflict as opposed to progression occurs. Leaving us either entrenched and scanning the horizon for fights to fight, sides to take, simple in’s or ‘out’s’, or worse, apathetic and redundant, when there isn’t a clear-cut electoral fight to be fought.
Because we know how destructive the remnants of an imperial ideology are, lodged deep within the psyche of the conservative right-wing. We know it. We’ve felt it. We’ve fought it. We’ve been fighting it for hundreds of years. But constant fighting, constant countering of bigotry, racism, greed, and the imperial conditioning of conflict takes its toll. In this ideologically construed state of being. It’s easy to understand why politics becomes synonymous with conflict, and conflict as opposed to progression occurs. Leaving us either entrenched and scanning the horizon for fights to fight, sides to take, simple in’s or ‘out’s’, or worse, apathetic and redundant, when there isn’t a clear-cut electoral fight to be fought.
We don’t have to fight with the wreck of a broken Empire any more. We don’t have to accept the deliberately divisive choices, that a relatively small group of deluded, would-be imperialists deign to give us. Let’s make sure they get the message…the war is over. We can make this vote on June 23 mean whatever we want it to mean. In 2014 a huge percentage of this country voted in favour of a progressive, innovative, free thinking, independence movement to continue the process towards a socially democratic, responsible and peaceful form of governance. Let’s do it again on June 23rd. Let’s keep walking in the direction of those who ‘achieved European health protection, enhanced social rights, workers rights, the breakup of monopolies, cleaner air, cleaner water, free trade, funding for projects that range from agriculture to social inclusion. And use the mechanisms that already exist within the EU, such as the Principle of Subsidiarity and the European Citizen’s Initiative, to further the legislative influence of current community led initiatives over here. Lets join with the millions of others who feel the same way about social democracy as we do, and we’ll see independence on the horizon sooner than we think.