I am a panel member of NatCen, an independent social surveys organisation. Over the last year, I have taken part in a number of surveys on subjects as diverse as the election result, immigration, Brexit, the Health service and government spending priorities.
In a recent survey, we were given the usual 10 point scale for a question (with 10 as strongly supporting and 0 as totally against, with the ability to place your score anywhere along the scale according to your strength of feeling about a subject).
The question was “How European do you feel?”. I answered 10. I did not have any doubts about my answer and did not feel the need to put in a fudged 6 or 7. I did indeed feel European and would put that ahead of being British, English or a London (in origin) who now resides in Brexit voting Lincolnshire.
I have been a convinced European for many years. I remember attending a meeting in Nottingham of the European Association on a cool autumn weekend in 1974. I found myself going to the bar to get a drink on the first evening there (it was a two-day conference ending the following day).
There was only one other person at the small bar and we got talking about our interest in Europe. He said that he was a Conservative and had been an MP in London (Lewisham) until he lost his seat in the February election of that year.
His name was John Selwyn Gummer and he was interested to know about my perspective on Europe. I explained that I was (at that time) a Labour Party supporter but had always found the idea of a Europe that cooperated with each other preferable to a Europe that was divided and was able to create the two massively destructive wars that had taken place in that century.
He said that he had similar views to my own in regards to Europe and that he was fascinated by the cross-party representation at that conference. He was proud that it had been a Conservative Prime-Minister, Edward Heath, that had led Britain’s membership into the European Economic Community on 1st January 1973 (just 22 months from the date of our conference).
Above is a front page from the Guardian which perhaps heralded the coming difficulties as well as opportunities that awaited us all on that fateful date. Here is a more readable version of the report:
I think the most interesting thing in the report is the section about the latest opinion poll which can be seen as the bottom paragraph on the left-hand side.
It states that “yesterday the latest opinion poll on the market by Opinion Research Centre for the B.B.C. suggested that 38% were happy about embarking on what Mr Heath depicted as an exciting adventure, 39% would prefer to get off. Twenty-three percent had no opinion at all.”
We had entered Europe therefore as a nation divided. It continued very much that way throughout the years that followed. The Thatcher years were marked by concerns about the growing powers of Europe and as we entered the 21st Century the realities of an open market, not just of goods but of people began to have an impact on negative and nationalist attitudes which saw the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Throughout this period both John Gummer (now Lord Deben) and I remained convinced Europeans. Not because we thought everything that happened in Brussels was wonderful but just because it was there. We had both become convinced by the arguments put forward by the pioneers of European Cooperation, in particular, Robert Schuman the architect of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950.
In the so-called Schuman Declaration setting up the ECSC, the opening three paragraphs are pertinent.
World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.
The contribution which an organized and living Europe can bring to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations. In taking upon herself for more than 20 years the role of champion of a united Europe, France has always had as her essential aim the service of peace. A united Europe was not achieved and we had war.
Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany. Any action taken must in the first place concern these two countries.
The Economic Community was thus about Europe not heading back into a devastating war. It was about France and Germany learning to live and cooperate with each other after years of bloody conflict. It was about a dream of a united European identity that overcame past nationalistic obsessions so that the nation-state, as an idea, would be about cultural identity and not race, religion and the subjugation of others.
I was born in 1953 into a world still recovering from the horrors of a conflict that had seen over 60 million people killed in a period of just over 5 years. I grew up in the period of the cold war between the west and the U.S.S.R. My father had fought in the army in World War 2. I am now approaching 65 years old. I have never picked up a gun, been conscripted into an army and mercifully been involved in a war where I see death and destruction around me.
I am a convinced European because I feel that I cannot be anything else. I was really shocked and concerned about the Referendum result in 2016. I still believe that we are better off inside of a cooperative community than outside of it. There are many people from all political parties who agree with me and what pleases me the most is that in the younger generation there are many, who like me, are willing to say that yes, it is a 10, we are European first and British second.