Friday, 9 December 2011

New, improved nostalgia!

Everybody used to be so much younger, have you noticed that? These days whenever you switch the TV on you find yourself staring at only vaguely recognisable, grotesquely aged people you used to fancy. On Facebook you are stalked by an army of bloated, and semi-canute zombies you last saw as fresh faced 18 year olds....what on earth happened to everyone?

I was reminded of this when I woke up this morning and found we were now living in a two speed Europe, with Britain seemingly marooned on the hard shoulder of the slow lane, pretty much on its own. You see, the last time Britain appeared so isolated in Europe was nearly 20 years ago (over Mad Cow Disease, of all things); my hair didn't need dyeing and I had a discernible waistline - happy days!

I was young but it didn't matter as I was A) very single, and B) not very cool. All the cool stuff happened later. I had never used a mobile phone and knew nobody who did. I had never been on the internet or sent an email. I filed for the paper I worked for from my Brussels office using a temperamental modem which sang a little atonal song dissolving into static and was so slow you practically had to crank it up by hand.

The Brussels press core was the largest in the world - eurosceptics were at the very least kept well informed, (not least by the BBC which had a huge, humming bureau there), if somewhat largely restricted to the UK (and a few Danes agitating for more environmental protection and more labour rights).

While I was busy growing older, plumper, married and internet savyy, with not one but two mobile phones in my briefcase, successive governments appear to have spent the best part of twenty years failing to make the case for Britain's place in the EU while refusing to take the country out of it.

This latest showdown it is not about the status of offal or the danger levels of tallow and bulls' semen, (oh, yes, we had a ball in that press room all those years ago...) but private equity funds, credit default swaps and the sacred right of the City to do whatever it wants, no matter how poisonous it might turn out to be.

Just for the record it might be worth remembering the context in which Britain's recent refusal to play came into being:

The single market, which the PM was determined to protect, very much includes financial services. Decisions in that field are taken with Qualified Majority Voting, a game in which it actually helps if you have allies prepared to scratch your back occasionally.

By contrast the feared Financial Transaction tax needs unanimity to be approved, so Britain already had a veto on it. As for paying for the sins of others, Britain will continue to contribute to the IMF, whose funds will presumably also be used to clean up the mess in the Eurozone.

David Cameron has spent the past two months lecturing the others ever more shrilly about the need to get their house in order and to sort out the eurozone before a catastrophe there takes his country down too. Yet Britain's contribution to the process at this crucial time was the petulant shrug of a six year old who's not playing anymore.

I hope he has a clever secret plan we don't know about, because what this looks like is he was bounced into a position of impotence and irrelevance by a desire to appease the unappeasable back home, to no discernable extra benefit for the country as a whole.

I would go back to tallow and the status of offal any day. But then who wouldn't like to be 22 again?

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