Mat Coward - Haunting Europe



Right wing loonies, forgotten celebs, and attractive, debonair socialists take on the business world, fashion victims and people who are obsessed by the (admittedly entirely justified) fear of a country with the biggest army and the stupidest head of state the world has ever seen. Mat Coward would like us to be able to guess which category he’s in, but in the meantime he reports on the frontline struggle to keep Charles Dickens on Britain’s legal tender.

You could call it an Unpopular Front - the broad-based alliance of groups campaigning against Britain joining the Euro. Like any alliance, it is composed of a variety of antagonistic factions, the main ones being:

1)       Right Wing Loonies (and that’s putting it politely). There really are people who sincerely believe that what makes the single currency unacceptable is not only that the notes will no longer have the Queen’s head on them - I must admit I never realised the notes did have the Queen’s head on them; she’s got quite an impressive beard for a woman, hasn't she? - but also that they will have been handled by foreigners and are therefore likely to carry germs.

These are people you wouldn't normally want to get on a bus with, let alone have alongside you whilst marching towards the sound of cannon fire. How anyone who supports capitalism can oppose the Euro is puzzling, but then I think it’s reasonable to suppose that anyone who doesn't realise that "Little Englander" is intended as an insult, is unlikely to grasp the intricacies of socialist arguments concerning the nation state, sovereignty, and proletarian internationalism. Not wanting to share a currency with people who smell of garlic is not, however generously one stretches the definition, a progressive position.

(Oh, wait a minute - I’ve just checked, and apparently that’s not the Queen. It’s Charles Dickens. Apologies all round.)

2)       Clapped Out Entertainers. There really are people who sincerely believe that the best way to revive their TV careers is to appear in anti-Euro videos. On the whole, these are comedians who were really quite funny for a brief period during the late 1970s or early 1980s, in which era they publicly espoused a variety of left-of-centre causes - not being all that keen on nazism, for instance, or thinking that on the whole women shouldn't be paid very much less than men. Now they're no longer radical young comics. These days, they're conservative, middle-aged former celebrities, bitter at being unrecognised by succeeding generations, and opposed to the Euro largely because other, more enduringly popular celebrities, are in favour of it. Being at that stage of their decline where they are more concerned with sucking up to the upper classes than with pandering to the masses, they tend to be in favour of fox-hunting, to affect disillusionment with democracy, and to spend a lot of time decrying the falling standards of televised comedy.

3)       Us. That is to say, principled, intelligent, disciplined, historically-aware, class-conscious, almost unbelievably good-looking socialists, who cling to the eccentric belief that in a democracy the people have some control over their politicians, and the politicians have some

control over the economy - and to the even more eccentric belief that this is a desirable thing.

So: spot the odd man out.

All that makes the Unpopular Front bearable is the knowledge that on the other side there is an Even More Unpopular Front, comprised of:


a)       Bankers, Bureaucrats, and Bent Businessmen - in other words, people who will become richer and/or more powerful as a result of the Euro. Well, fair enough - you can’t really blame them, can you?

b)  Fashion Victims. They don't actually know what the Euro is, or why it’s a good thing, or what difference if any it will make to their lives ... they don’t need to. They know that every organ of respectable, hip, liberal opinion is in favour of it, and that's good enough for them.

c)    Those Terrified Out Of Their Wits By The Madness of King George. The largest group of all - Britons who have become convinced that being pro-Euro is the most effective way of being anti-USA. They're right, of course, inasmuch that a foolproof method of avoiding being eaten by a lion is to hide in the belly of a shark.

These poor folk are, let’s be honest, terrifically hard to argue with.

They are aware of all the perils of monetary union, and god knows, it’s not as if they're in favour of the bloody thing - it’s just that if we "become part of Europe" it means we "won’t be part of America any more," and that’s all that matters.

If you say to them, "You do realise your local hospital will probably have to close in order to meet the Euro criteria spending cuts," they simply nod and say "Yes, but we won’t be part of America anymore, will we?" And if you warn them "Your children will grow up unable to read or write because there won’t be any text books or teachers, and you’ll have to go into a workhouse when you're old because there won’t be any pensions," they've got an answer to that, too: "Yes," they patiently point out, "but you see - we won’t actually be part of America any more, will we?"

If we could only prove beyond doubt that the Euro is a CIA plot, we might just make some headway with this group. At the moment it’s impossible to say which of these mighty coalitions

will eventually prevail, but it’s not too early to make two observations:

i)  Anti-Euro socialists are keeping appalling company, and it would be dangerous to pretend otherwise.

ii) We are, nonetheless, on the right side. It’s just everybody else who isn't.

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