Election portrait 2A few days ago I made a personal resolution.  I must be grown up and not engage in emotional self-harm.  Now is the time to stop watching Newsnight, Question Time, Channel 4 News, Sky and BBC news channels and the rest.  That is until after 23rd June.

Night after night the same few characters are given airtime to bang on about how we must leave Europe. In normal times these people would be confined to the political margins, where they belong.  A kind of side show while the serious and complicated business of politically managing the country goes on uninterrupted.

Now in the name of balance fifty percent of airtime is given over to Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Gove, Duncan-Smith and more locally Rees-Mogg and Liam Fox.  I shudder as I write those names.  For a few years I have switched channels as soon as anyone from UKIP came into my house on TV, now that rule must apply to the UKIP wing of the Conservative Party (as Cameron well knows, there’s an awful lot of them).  They are dangerous men and make me feel unwell.

So how odd that I find myself writing about a subject that is beyond tedious.  It’s complicated, detailed and we are seeing it being grossly over simplified by populist politicians.   How to get around this hurdle?  Who knows? But here is my own personal perspective.

Europe and Britain’s membership has been my passion and world view for a very long time.  While I don’t see everything through that narrow prism, I thrill at our partnership with our fellow Europeans.  My love of the EU comes from both the head and heart.

I come from a Tory family and my father was bitterly opposed to Britain’s membership of what was then the Common Market.  For decades we had bitter arguments on this topic.  It really harmed our relationship as did his views on race.  Later in my life I grew up enough to stop talking about Europe and things improved between us.

As a very small child I remember how frightened I was of the impending third world war and my fear of the Russians and Chinese.  I would sit in the front room playing with my toys consumed by anxiety.  My early political influences were Macmillan and Heath, both internationalists.

Once I qualified as a Chartered Accountant I moved to Peru.  Why?  Because it was in the company diary.  Many of us fledgling accountants whiled away time in the office imagining living in the various exotic office locations listed in the Price Waterhouse diary.  Later I returned to the UK and joined an American multinational company.  Within a few years I had become disillusioned with the Conservative Party and their increasingly adversarial relationship with our European partners.  I quit politics.  My company transferred me to the States and then to Holland.  As a side effect of my foreign travels I learned two more European languages.

In my life the frame of reference has been the crossing borders and cultures and the pleasure of communicating with others in their own language.  I was able to see at first-hand how America had remained a strong powerful country because the continuing waves of immigration, and the energy and youthfulness it brought, freshly invigorated the country time after time.  In Holland I loved being able to get in my car and drive through Belgium, Germany, France and Austria without passport or any other papers.  And even more I loved the fact that I had a right to work there.

Today I am retired in Bristol, a true European city, and my elder son has moved to Copenhagen where he flourishes in a way he couldn’t in our home area of Merseyside.   My step daughter lives in Beijing.

I cannot imagine that Britain could seek to disentangle itself from the EU any more than I could imagine Bristol fully unshackling itself from London, tempting a thought though that may be.

These days in the autumn of my life many of my European adventures occur at the Boston Tea Party where I watch the world go by and chat to anyone willing to give me their time.  Often these are young people who moved from fellow European countries to make their way in the world.  It’s both charming and stimulating.

My own life experiences in a small way reflect what is actually happening in a big way.  Britain is a trading nation and has long been so.  We are influential in Europe.  National boundaries are more often a hindrance rather than a help.  Talent is drawn to where the action is.  The extraordinary growth of communications and fast travel means that people with get up and go can do just that and these days Britain and Bristol are major beneficiaries.

I cannot grasp why we would consider leaving the EU.  28 democratic countries doing their best to work out their problems together.  It’s just the greatest idea in an unsafe world.

Stephen Perry, old codger and a founding member of Independents for Bristol



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