The Old Stars

Image by Mike King

In memory of Mike King

One of the myths surrounding our membership of the EU is that when prime-minister Ted Heath and the Tory Party took us into the European Economic Community in 1973 everyone believed it was nothing more than a trading arrangement – a ‘Common Market’, as it was neatly labelled. I was twelve years old at the time and remember the anger of my father and many of his friends, who were clear that this was the start of a political takeover. Their view was: ‘The Germans couldn’t beat us in two World Wars so they are going to do it through the Common Market.’

Heath and his backers in the establishment knew the EEC represented the foundations of a European superstate, and this Big Lie has underpinned our forty-six years’ membership of an organisation that has adjusted its name as its tentacles have tightened their grip on our economy and law-making. This Big Lie serves Big Politics, Big Business, Big Money. It works for the corporations and the wealthy, a slow-motion coup that has taken place across the decades, out of sight and out of mind, so each new generation has little idea of what went before.

Incredibly, all these years later, trade is still being manipulated to keep us in the EU, while the core reasons for the referendum – sovereignty, democracy, the very survival of the UK and its four nations – are ignored. The term ‘Common Market’ was used in much the same way as ‘Brexit’ is being used today, to deflect attention and create confusion. We voted to leave the EU, not to spend years debating whether we have a ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ version of an invented word, and then in any case end up with the betrayal that is Chequers or a second referendum.

While many people also felt betrayed back in 1973, more of them believed the politicians. What harm could it do? For those who saw what was happening, the years that followed were often demoralising and even crushing. While our history and culture was belittled, the post-war welfare state was dismantled. Local history and pride, industries run by and for the people – none of that suits the EU. And the UK and EU establishments are one and the same. It was clear back in the 1970s and it is clear now that the real enemy lies within.

When the sun rose over the rooftops of London on June 24th, 2016, I thought of Dad and his mates and wished they’d been alive to share my elation. Like many older people who are still with us but have since been branded selfish and stupid by a handful of arrogant, hate-filled snobs, they would have thought it a very special time. My father’s generation knew where the EU was coming from and they knew where it was going, and would have loved the fact that the referendum victory was achieved against such overwhelming odds. That was the People’s Vote.

When Dad retired, he said two of his biggest problems were that he wanted to do the same things he had done as a young man but his body wouldn’t let him, and that his wallet was the width of a single page of a newspaper. Few pensioners have the wealth of a Vince Cable or Michael Heseltine; they have to make do and find a focus after a lifetime of work. They have no power and are often passed over, and today their wisdom is dismissed in a way I can’t remember happening in my own lifetime.

Going into his later years and suffering from heart disease, he had an idea and decided to make the collage that appears on this page. A lot of thinking and planning was involved, a few dead ends and rethinks, and it was all done manually with the focus on paper, glue, scissors. It took him time to hunt down the images he wanted, to find a photocopier that worked in the library, figure out how it would all fit together. He laughed a lot, really enjoyed the process, discussed it at length with his friends in the Wetherspoons they used, and even got his friend Gerry’s son – a tattooist – to paint the burning flags.

The image of Baphomet was reproduced in various sizes and cut out. The euro was dropped into position. EU-style stars were arranged and aligned and stuck down, and in his view – and that of others – represent the stars of the Virgin Mary’s halo. He had read a lot about the roots of the EU, the empire-builders and tyrants who’d tried to create a European superstate over the centuries, and in this case the reference is the Holy Roman Empire.

While my dad and his friends considered Heath a traitor and disliked the EU, they never hated Europe or its people, not even the Germans, whose regular army was admired for its bravery by the older men who had fought them as soldiers. These characters weren’t politically correct, but liked a discussion and were open to different views, accepted difference in the way that working people do. Europe was still seen as exotic, a collection of distinct cultures and languages, and they rejected the vision of a huge, homogenised, EU hypermarket. They supported the Metric Martyrs while the media sniggered, saw decimalisation as a step towards a single currency.

In later years, when they met up in Wetherspoons for a drink, the wider world was always well represented, and this reflects something I noticed during the referendum, that the angriest Remainers who demand another vote and insult those who chose to leave the EU are often inarticulate and insular, and I wonder if they have ever left Fortress Europe. Their idea of difference is skin deep and regimented, and they seem to have little knowledge of the EU and how it works, no sense of history or grasp of the future.

When the collage was finished, Dad had some postcards made and tried to interest several MPs and other public figures who said they opposed the EU, but got nowhere. Even fifteen or so years ago, those in positions of power were terrified of causing offence. They clearly missed the humour, the mischievousness of something that is not meant to be taken literally. It connects with a much older way of looking at the world, which Dad found interesting. There is an occult feel to the picture, the idea of a hidden organisation at work.

While the reaction of these people was amusing in one sense, it was also a surprise, and while he never said it I know Dad was disappointed. So I hope he can see it getting this showing twelve years after his death. And when I think of him on that night of June 23rd, 2016, I see him celebrating in a celestial pub with Gerry, Del Smith, Charlie Reynolds, Reg Butterwick (Dunkirk and Arnhem), Billy Mills (a serial POW-escapee and the hardest man they had ever met), plus all the other old herberts who believed in democracy and free speech. The beer there is cheaper than at a Wetherspoons, but the same pro-Leave beermats are scattered along the bar.

John King is an author, publisher and editor. His books include 'The Football Factory', 'White Trash', 'The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler' and his new book, 'Slaughterhouse Prayer' is out now..