The Day Before the Referendum
Today is the day before the UK goes out to vote in a (thankfully) once-in-a-lifetime referendum on whether to leave the EU, or to remain in it. The atmosphere of the past few weeks has been toxic and growing more so, and it builds on certain types of toxicity that have been implanted in the national rhetoric throughout the tenure of the current government. The drift to the far right is not just America's problem; it's global. After a coalition government and then a brutal election campaign in 2010, in which the Conservative party tried to portray itself as caring, the rhetoric has drifted further and further to the right. The much-vaunted 'austerity' needed to get us over the crash of 2008 is still in place even though seemingly every economist in the world has said it won't work, can't work. But somehow, though people have even been dying as a result of its policies, the rich are getting richer and richer. And in the meantime, the rhetoric against immigrants has become somehow actually mainstream.
The idea of leaving the EU (the so-called 'Euro-sceptic' movement) has been around for decades. Certainly it has been the fond fantasy of many a conservative politician, though they are always vague on what they would do after. The economists are more of less united in saying that even though we are the world's fifth-largest economy, this is largely because of the EU and the City of London, and that if e left we would be plunged into a new, ten-year recession.
The country is becoming polarised in a way no one can remember since the darkest days of Margaret Thatcher: the Falklands War, the year-long miners' strike, the poll tax riots.
I'll be talking a little about that over the next few days, but for now here is a little meditation on the idea of Europe as an entity in the modern world, seen through the medium of an unassuming little typewriter. The European Union was begun after the Second World War as a way to keep European countries talking to each other, to create a shared purpose, enable cultural understanding, and prevent another war. Notwithstanding the wars that have admittedly raged round its edges in the Balkans, and the continuing heavy breathing of Russia, the bulk of the continent has had its first 70 consecutive years of peace since Ancient Rome. To that extent 'Europe' is a huge success. This first post can celebrate that.
The plucky little pan-European typewriter I've typed this post on was made not in 1955, as I write below (I then checked), but in 1950 when the memory of the War was still raw. England still had rationing in 1950 (and we're now in our sixth year of 'austerity' once again). And I'll leave it there. Now, for its soothing, imprinted, fixed-space characters...