The weekend that has gone witnessed the continuing celebrations for the 90th birthday of the reigning British monarch, Elizabeth Windsor. Parades of guards, bands and royal carriages through the streets of London, aircraft fly-pasts and, it is reported, street parties in various parts of the land, have accompanied the celebrations. Always wanting to go one better, the Australians have a national holiday to celebrate the event – or at least that is their story.
Although I have lived for the past twenty five years in the UK, I have a good reason to remember the 12th June Queen’s Birthday holiday down-under. This was the date in 1955 when I arrived with my family in Australia. I was a ten year-old immigrant – a British export! We had disembarked our ship, the HMV Georgic, and been deposited on the Port of Melbourne quay. A bus was then to take us to the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings, there to spend our first few days enjoying communal living close to the city centre before being shipped-out to a Commonwealth of Australia migrant hostel in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne
As we waited quayside, a radio carried a live broadcast of what I was to later discover was the traditional Queen’s Birthday holiday Australian Rules football match taking place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The game was between two of that era’s best teams and fiercest rivals, the Melbourne Demons and the Collingwood Magpies. I seem to recall that Melbourne won that day, as they did last weekend in the latest clash between the two. However, neither team is amongst the Australian Football League’s present-day elite teams.
Whilst Elizabeth Windsor’s birthday celebrations were being observed in the UK and in at least one former colony, the world moved on. In Orlando, USA, fifty young people – most of who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans-gender and socializing at the Pulse nightclub – were shot and killed by an American-born Muslim with seemingly extremist or conflicted views on religious faith and human sexuality. The President of the USA, Barack Obama, said that it was a crime not only of terror but also of hate.
Marseille, a port city in southern France, has been the crossroads of immigration and trade since its founding by the Phoenicians in 600 B.C.E. It was said that the city’s police had “prepared well for the invasion of British supporters” (Daily Mail). It appears that it was forgotten that the Russians would also be in town! Ostensibly started by well-prepared Russian fans, a running battle was engaged in the Marseille city centre between the opposing English and Russian supporters. The trouble continued inside the football stadium when the match between the two teams concluded with a drawn game.
The outcome of all this was that, as both teams relocated to northern France, the football associations of both countries were threatened with expulsion from further participation in the on-going Euro 2016 matches if there is a repetition of the violence by either countries’ supporters.
In the Middle East Muslims with differing slants on the ideology of Islam continued to batter the hell out of each other, as town after town is laid waste and the casualty numbers mount daily. This is a conflict, however, involving more than opposing Islamic forces. Increasingly, we learn of covert military involvement by the forces of western governments and other interests.
Whilst, amongst other events, all of the above has been going on, the war of attrition between opposing sides in the UK over the European Union In/Out Referendum has been gathering momentum. Arguments about economic outcomes, immigration, human rights, industrial and agricultural policies, trade agreements and, would you believe, taxation on female hygiene products, have waged to and fro.
Of particular interest to me at this time is the debate about democracy and national sovereignty. It is the case, argues the “leavers” that, if the British were to leave the EU, then the nation would take back its border controls and, in consequence, regain sovereignty and control immigration into the UK. So too, it would re-assert the role of British courts in dispensing British-style justice, enable political decisions about the UK to be made by the Parliament at Westminster and, in various ways, protect the British way of life and its national institutions.
All of the foregoing, it is stated, would re-focus and strengthen democracy in the UK.
Nevertheless, in recent days there does not seem to have been much of a hindrance to the operation of British democracy and in the UK being a member of the EU – no interruption to parades, street parties and royal strutting down the Mall; the opportunity for football supporters to be passport-free to visit France, even if not enjoying a fracas with supporters from Russia, a non-EU country (and who would probably be delighted if the UK left that union); no let-up in the awarding of so-called “royal honours” to women and men for simply being good at doing what they are meant to do; and, of course, no interruption to the Queen’s Birthday holiday tradition of an Aussie Rules football match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (some things will always remain the same).
Further, as a convinced federalist who is also a firm supporter of British membership of the EU (being a Scot by birth and having been brought-up in the Federal Commonwealth of Australia being formative), I am aware of some major inconsistencies in the “leave” position when it comes to retaking British national sovereignty and re-staking the nation’s democracy.
Will the British people be allowed to have their say on whether the institution of monarchy should continue (even if it means the possibility of Aussies losing one of their national holidays), and the question of the discriminatory role of the monarch in the established Church of England? When will the British political class decide that it is most undemocratic to have an unelected Upper House (the House of Lords), especially when it is composed of many who took their seat in the house in consequence of favours or funding remitted, failure to be elected to, or retiring from, the House of Commons, or who are high-ranking acolytes of the established Church of England?
Furthermore, will leaving the EU remove the silent but powerful influence of the British civil service (as contrasted with the Brussel’s bureaucracy) in the determining, supervision and practical outcomes of parliamentary policies and decision-making? Is there any guarantee that the British courts will be any more effective in the administration of justice and probity in the land, e.g. human and workers’ rights and matters of climatology, than the councils of the EU?
As well, will leaving the EU encourage the British government be any more honest and transparent in exposing its covert military operations in places such as Iraq and Libya or in its permission to sell military equipment to countries that practice terrorism, genocide and internecine religious strife? Will that same government refrain from deepening and extending its policies of economic austerity on ordinary British families, or stop blaming the European Union and the free movement of Europe’s peoples for the need for such policies?
From an examination of recent British political history, there is very little to indicate that British politicians, law-makers and scions of industry and commerce, would be any more effective in realising the impractical dreams of the EU “leavers – whether these dreams be of economic opportunity and consolidation, legal and social fairness, issues of so-called national sovereignty and security, democratic accountability for the operations of government at home or abroad, or preventing violent altercations involving British football supporters at venues outside of the UK?
It is my fervent hope that the referendum on whether the British should remain in or leave the European Union will prove to have been a matter of much ado about something, but that it will result in the UK solidly staying within, remaining integral and vital to, and constantly and unashamedly being identified with the EU.