Monday, May 30, 2016

Brexit peer’s alternative history lesson

I suppose it was inevitable, but the recent campaign by almost 300 creative artists from the worlds of film, music and literature urging Britons to vote to stay in the European Union, set the Brexit trolls running.

Or at least one troll. The more prominent Eurosceptics appeared to shy away from criticising such high-flying popular culture favourites as Keira Knightley and Helena Bonham Carter, but not the little-known House of Lords time-server, Baron Dobbs of Wylye.

The noble peer claimed in reply that British culture would be better for shaking off the European yoke, citing ancient Greece as “the birthplace of our civilisation today, but because of the EU’s appalling policies, streets that were once filled with the world’s greatest philosophers and playwrights are choked with desperate beggars and mountains of rotting rubbish”.

Only in a Monty Python skit were the streets of ancient Athens filled with philosophers and playwrights. In reality philosophers and playwrights constituted a tiny minority, far outnumbered by ancient Athenian politicians, soldiers, thieves, con-artists and yes, beggars, just as every city has been down through the ages. It probably wasn’t that clean either.

As for the EU’s “appalling policies” causing Greece’s current difficulties — the country would be far worse off if there had been no fellow EU members keeping it tottering on the right side of solvency.

The blame lies with the failure of past Greek Governments to recognise the country was living beyond its means. The current generation is paying for the mistakes of its predecessors going back at least until the 1960s.

The UK’s artistic community is right to worry about the haul-up-the-drawbridge attitude of Brexit supporters. Art flourishes when it can reach easily across national borders; if this is denied or restricted it becomes inward looking, dull and uninspired — witness the grim, unimaginative art and literature that characterised the straitjacketed Stalinist and Nazi eras.

As the joint plea, also signed by such luminaries as Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and novelist John le Carre states: “Britain is not just stronger in Europe, it is more imaginative and more creative.”

Apart of course from Baron Dobbs of Wylye, whose imagination knows no bounds when it comes to creating a Brexit view of Greece, both ancient and modern. 


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