“What has the EU ever done for us?”: Public communication in Hauts-de-France

These advertisements were in every train station I passed through last week in Nord-pas-de-Calais, the area of Hauts-de-France (Upper France) known for Agincourt, the Somme battlefields, and the Calais refugee camp. The ads are paid for by the Hauts-de-France regional government, and tell you exactly what the European Union has contributed to the area: €219 million for science and research, €100 million for business, €59 million for youth training. Even on the train departure board at Arras, the regional capital, there was a little sticker explaining “Europe engages [or ‘commits to’] Nord-pas-de-Calais”. I looked up the slogan later and the ads are part of an EU awareness campaign, “Mon Europe, Mon Quotidien” (“My Europe, My Everyday”), that the Hauts-de-France region launched today, 29 October: every Saturday, the campaign will go to a different town or city in the region, set up a stand and tell people about what the EU has done for their area.

I have been fantasising about how the EU referendum in the UK might have gone if local governments in England and Wales had run campaigns like this. I’m not even fantasising about a magically different result (j/k of course I am), but just about what it would have been like to have this kind of conversation, actually talking about the pros and cons of the EU, instead of vague gesturing about the NHS and business, and racist incitement about immigration.

Sometimes in the UK you’ll see a small EU flag on something that has received European funding. But I have never seen signs like this, and during the referendum, the Remain campaign never gave a clear, loud statement about the benefits of the EU instead of the risk of leaving it. The Remain message that I heard most was “It will be bad for businesses and London banks” – because post-austerity that’s really the message that resonates with people – and “Immigrants: sometimes not that bad really? (although obviously we all want less of them)”. Seeing the “Mon Europe, Mon Quotidien” campaign made me realise how frightened and small-c conservative the Remain campaign came across, and how far the conversation in England has gone away from talking about reality, instead of wishes: I have heard nothing from the Westminster government either before or since the referendum about EU science funding, community development funding, social funding… (I say England and Westminster because the Scottish government has been much more on top of this, and I’m not aware enough of the conversation in Wales and Northern Ireland to be able to say.)

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Tudor Brexit

Hello! How are you? I was working on a book and then a bunch of ostentatiously horrible political stuff happened, so instead I’ve spent the last three weeks drinking constantly and refreshing Twitter. Ha ha ha! [MUFFLED UNCONTROLLABLE SOBBING]

It’s become apparent that the leaders of the Leave campaign had zero plan, and either never really expected to win, or assumed everything would just turn out OK: I think possibly one of the reasons so many people went “yeah, sure, let’s leave the EU, no idea what will happen but it will probably be fine!” is that it taps into one of the main stories England tells itself about itself, about that time we told Europe to fuck off and it went great.

The story goes something like,

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The Briton’s Protection, Manchester

The Britons Protection

Unfortunately, I only passed the Briton’s Protection on my last day in Manchester, on the way to the train station, with no time for a pint. But I was interested by the sign, showing soldiers on horseback chasing down people carrying ‘REFORM’ banners. I took a picture and looked up the story behind it when I got home.

It refers to what happened at nearby St. Peter’s Field on a summer afternoon in 1819, when around 80,000 people gathered to peacefully demonstrate for voting reform. The British Library site has a good summary of the context and what happened that day.

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Gloucestershire: Berkeley Castle and Britain’s Best Pub 2015

It’s a golden Tuesday in September and I’m the only person in my carriage on the 9:15 train from Paddington, going west. The inspector comes by after a quiet three-quarters of an hour, and I hand him my ticket. “You’ve been there before?” he says. It isn’t really a question; it’s to a tiny station in Gloucestershire, where there’s no good reason to go unless you know what you’re doing.

“Oh – no,” I say.

“Someone picking you up? It’s out in the sticks, mind.”

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Lost in Jacobean south London

In times of great need, even a wary north Londoner's feet may turn to the depths of the south - by which I mean Zone 3. Lurking there are a Jacobean manor house and a 'nice chap' who might be able to fix my violin for me.

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Runnymede: The John F. Kennedy memorial

When we visited Runnymede earlier this year we were surprised to find not only a memorial to the Magna Carta, but also a memorial to John F. Kennedy.

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