A friend asked me if I had watched the referendum debate in the Houses of Parliament the other day. I asked him to repeat the question because whenever I hear the words 'referendum', 'debate' and 'parliament' in the same sentence, my body automatically shuts down. I think this must be some sort of instinctive defense mechanism I'm developing. I find irritation and anger to be exhausting emotions these days. And nothing makes me more irritable and angry than MPs talking about Europe.
Apparently there was another debate about Europe last week in Westminster. This doesn't surprise me in the slightest. It is the Conservative Party's favourite topic du jour right now because it covers several bases simultaneously.
Firstly it means they can pretend to be further to the right than Ukip, defending our green and pleasant lands against Adolf Merkel and her French dogs. Secondly they think that if they insult the EU enough, people will forget that actually it's no one's fault but our own that the UK is mired in recession. And thirdly, for the over-expanded egos that most MPs seem to have, it's just good ol' fun. Who doesn't enjoy a bit of Cameron/Miliband/Clegg baiting on a Wednesday afternoon?
Having been exiled in Brussels for just over two years, I have to admit to having become a tad disengaged from British politics. I've also gone a bit 'continental', in that I drink coffee 'sur le terrace' (that's probably incorrect French) and find myself saying "boooffff" to express my displeasure at certain individuals. What it has given me however is a bit of distance from the swampy quicksand that currently envelops the British media and politics. When you're in the quicksand, the only way out seems to be panic-induced mania. When you're sat on the side of the quicksand, it's easy to see why the best course of action is actually to chill the f*ck out and wait for help.
Sadly the UK is one giant pit of quicksand at the moment, so everyone, MPs, ministers, journalists and angry Tweeters alike, is in a pretty much constant state of mental breakdown. In Westminster, with Ukip breathing down the necks of all establishment politicians, rational debate has long since departed. Tory backbenchers, terrified that they might have to join the endless queues of unemployed youths in the real world, are desperately competing to be the most rightwing, the most traditional, the most eurosceptic and the most angry.
Dead-set on proving to their constituents that Ukip are actually fluffy toys when it comes to Europe, the result is an astonishing example of policy-style self-harm. Despite Cameron's (albeit fuzzy) commitment to a referendum in the next Parliament, the backbenchers, with the zealot-readers of ConHome and the Daily Mail in mind, seem to think that if only the Europe question were asked tomorrow, Ukip would die.
Excuse my Belgian-French, but this is crap. As I have suggested in previous posts, the rise of Ukip is not actually about immigrants or Brussels. It is simply a reflection of the fact that the average Briton is sick to death of politicians whose main concern is getting re-elected. The issue is one of trust, which has been lost in recent years due to endless scandal and general incompetence. Europe and immigrants are just easy things for the protest movement to coalesce around.
A referendum on Europe might sound quite exciting. It might seem the most obvious type of Ukip-weed killer. Similarly the construction of a giant sea wall around the UK to keep out grubby immigrants could also reasonably be expected of Theresa May in the coming months. But these promises are utterly pointless if people don't believe the person making it.
The ridiculous thing is that the only people who like this sort of hysteria are a relatively narrow demographic who are not representative of most Britons. The 'silent majority', that nebulous entity that occasionally pops it head above the surface, would probably prefer everyone to sit down over a cup of tea and calm down. It is distinctly un-British to riot and pontificate like the French (many apologies to my French friends). Whenever I see the headlines at the moment, which is less and less because they are generally so unpleasant, I feel nothing but discomfort. Nothing will get solved whilst people shout and scream.
I'll pre-empt the insults in the comment section below by saying that, despite having 'gone a bit native', I am not sure how I would vote in a referendum on Europe. Currently I am leaning towards voting to leave. However my feelings on the issue change as often as Belgian strikers prevent me getting to work on time. All I know is that I know nothing. But I definitely am not going to base my decision on the press releases of a bunch of politicians whose main concern is getting some cheap press in the Daily Mail (many apologies also to the Daily Mail).
And for the chap who so kindly described me as "a bearded four-eyes who looks like a Labour social worker" in a comment last week, thank you. I have delighted in telling my friends and family that I apparently look like Marx but sound like Thatcher.