Thursday, 23 June 2016

In which EM Forster gets my vote.

It’s been a rather horrible three days. Sometimes a perfect storm arrives, a vicious combination of emotional turmoil, family stuff, events in the world. I can deal with one, I can deal with two, I can’t deal with three. So I go quiet for those missing days, away from the internet, away from all the shouting voices. In those times, I close the door and sit still in my room and wait for that storm to pass. I always know it does pass and I always forget it does pass. I sometimes speak out loud to myself as I tend to the horses in the silent field, talking myself down from the ceiling. I think: human hearts are great things and human hearts are fragile things.

The wrangling and brangling of the last few weeks, the accusations and bogus posters and sometimes cynical tactics – all that has not been dear old Blighty’s finest hour. I have an odd belief in Britain. It’s a little curious to believe in a country. Countries are, after all, fairly random collections of humans. This country has a long and chequered history. It’s a mutt of a country, a cross-breed of cultures and events and rights and wrongs and ethnicities and bloodlines. And yet, I do believe in it. I don’t like to see the old lady as fractured and cross as she is at the moment. I’ve found it oddly upsetting.

I also hate picking sides. I’m a bone-deep liberal, and I see both sides of pretty much every argument. This is very tiring. In this argument it is especially tiring, since both sides are right and both sides are wrong. It’s being presented as a binary choice, but there is nothing Manichean about it. It is not hope versus fear, or light versus dark. It’s also been a mess of category errors. Some people have behaved appallingly, but this does not mean that the argument they represent is wrong. Resist the ad hominem, I tell myself, over and over, look at the pure principles.

In the end, I went and put my cross in the box, not with any sense of dancing delight. I did not think, as I do at general elections: this is what the Pankhursts fought for. The arguments about the democratic deficit and the absurdity of a European Supreme Court trumping British law are unanswerable. But in some ways, they are head arguments. I went, in the end, with the heart argument. My heart says: let us be part of something wider, greater, more hopeful. That foolish heart understands all the flaws of the union, and there are many, but does not want to pull up the drawbridge and retreat, but roll up its sleeves and work to make it better. The heart tells me that if I turn away I am a wrecker, and I don’t want to be a wrecker. I worry about the economy on a very human level: the old ladies with their pensions, the young apprentices who have just got their first chance, the small businesses who need their market. The ship has only just steadied after the stormy seas of the world financial crisis; I could not bear it to be tossed by a self-imposed tempest.

Most of all, and this perhaps is not my own finest hour, I voted to stay in Europe because I fear muddle. EM Forster wrote: ‘Take an old man's word; there's nothing worse than a muddle in all the world. It is easy to face Death and Fate, and the things that sound so dreadful. It is on my muddles that I look back with horror - on the things that I might have avoided. We can help one another but little. I used to think I could teach young people the whole of life, but I know better now, and all my teaching of George has come down to this: beware of muddle.’

He also wrote: ‘We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won't do harm - yes, choose a place where you won't do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.’

And, in the same book, he said that by the side of the everlasting Why there is a Yes.

I want to say yes, rather than no. I’m going to stand in the sunshine, even though that sunshine is sometimes shadowed by clouds. It may be that I am the only person in Britain today who voted to remain in Europe because of A Room With A View. There are a hundred good reasons to vote for either side, and all of them may be defended with reason, bolstered with practicality, galvanised with intellectual argument. My reason is a faintly bonkers one, but it is my reason. It won’t convince anyone else, nor is it meant to. This is not an evangelical reason; it is a private one. I vote for the Emersons, for the sunshine, for the yes, for the beware of muddle. 


  1. The whole of human life began with a yes...
    Yes, yes, yes!

  2. One of my absolutely favourite posts ever - thank you. You always write well but sometimes you are extraordinary. This is better than anything else I have read on Europe anywhere... Thanks too for reminding me of that Room with a View quote - one of my favourite books but I'd forgotten it. Hope your world settles, Rachel

  3. He is as good a guide as any I've heard. I'd made my mind up anyway, but that mind is quieter now.

  4. Forster famously also said "Only connect".

  5. Tough times turn people into naysayers. I speak from a country full of them right now. Sad.
    As I watch the returns from across the ocean, I say -- yay for Scottish votes.

  6. Lovely lovely lovely lovely lovely post ....

  7. I've been away and watched the results from afar and somewhat detached. I've skimmed over pieces and caught clever summaries and quips. But your beautiful words say it best. Lovely, lovely post xx


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin