William Davis, “Quick, the Drawbridge,” Punch, April 9, 1975, pp. 597-98.
What a splendid example the fishermen of Britain have set for all the good people who believe — and have always believed — that our troubles are not due to Mr Benn, or Mr Scanlon, or even Mr Wilson but solely and simply to excessive contact with foreigners.
Faced with the threat of frozen fish imports which are not only foreign, but cheap, these brave descendents of Drake and Nelson did the proper British thing: they organised a blockade. We may be in the Common Market, but that is no reason why foreigners should be allowed to meddle with our sovereign right to maintain inflation at the level to which we have become accustomed. The blockade succeeded in pushing fish prices up by 50 per cent — a remarkable demonstration, you will agree, of what we in this great country can still do when we are up against it and without doubt, the most impressive stand against the European menace since the epic struggle against French eggs. Our rate of inflation, Mr Healey noted the other day, may soon be double that of our biggest competitors. In short, Britain leads the world!
Similar protests are now being mounted against the importation of cheap beef and cheap textiles. It’s no longer any use leaving these things to politicians. Ministers used to say that the British housewife would never again be allowed to buy cheaply, but that has proved to be yet another broken election promise. Indeed, some are now trying to dazzle us with economic science: cheap imports, they claim, raise the real value of wages and savings. So it is clearly right that we, the people, should take up arms and fight this latest threat to the British Way of Life. London’s dockers are already making their own unique contribution.
The whole unpleasant business is, of course, the fault of the Common Market. Ever since Britain joined this capitalistic club the foreigners have come here selling things. They have used underhand methods like printing sales brochures in English, outbidding local competitors and keeping delivery dates. They have even given us huge loans and subsidies so that we could go on buying their stuff. There is, as the Get Britain Out campaigners would no doubt wish me to stress, no end to their devilish Continental cunning.
It wasn’t meant to be like this at all. At least I’m sure it isn’t what Mr Heath had in mind when he announced, with characteristic modesty, that we would “shake the world with our response”. We joined the foreigners in their Common Market so that we could sell to them. The idea was, if I remember rightly, that they would junk their Continental rubbish and gracefully accept that, as everyone knows, British is Best. There was a splendid headline in the Guardian at the time which summed it up best:
BRITISH BUN THE BEST
“We did not find an honest British bun anywhere in Europe,” a gratified baker explained.
The story since then has been a continued saga of petty frustration. Particularly irritating has been the Market’s stubborn refusal to adjust itself to British price levels, and a ridiculous insistence that goods should be delivered by the promised date. Typical of the Market’s unhelpful attitude was the juvenile behaviour of foreign buyers during the three day week. Contracts were cancelled, even though we assured them that we might be able to deliver in a year or two’s time. It was, as Mr Shore would certainly wish me to point out, a brutal and inexcusable threat to the sovereign right of British Governments to wreck the country.
It is hardly surprising, in the circumstances, that some of the Government’s economic experts (whose performance, over the years, has been one of the great wonders of the world) are advocating not only a speedy withdrawal from the miserable European club but also a clampdown on all imports. In the jargon beloved by experts this is known as creating a “siege economy”; you may feel more comfortable with our own phrase, Fortress Britain.
The basic reasoning goes something like this. Britain neither wants nor cares for foreign luxuries like fish, beef, butter, Beaujolais, Citroens and Italian Silk ties. We did without them in the war, and we can do without them again. All this foreign stuff has made us soft: the British are much happier when they are cold and hungry. Import controls will help the balance of payments and, at the same time, make it easier for British firms to go on as they have done for the last few centuries. Free at last from the corrupting influence of Fiat and Mercedes Benz, and from the need to compete with boringly efficient foreigners, we would be able to return to the simple pleasures which made Elizabethan England — for example — so pleasant for thousands of people.
A proper siege economy, of course, would also have to include curbs on other activities which, at present, go virtually unchecked. I am thinking, in particular, of that costly and quite unnecessary pastime, foreign travel. Why should anyone ever want to go abroad? It’s a hazardous business at the best of time, what with all that garlic and cold beer. And people who go abroad have an annoying tendency to come back with fancy ideas about living. The other day an M.P. introduced a bill which would make it possible for you and me to have a drink at four o’clock in the afternoon. He won’t succeed, of course, but that’s the kind of dangerous thinking I have in mind. Remove the chance to travel and you remove the temptation.
There are, I accept, people who find this kind of talk depressing. They are the same people who prefer hot baths to cold showers — decadent, selfish types who claim to enjoy life, as if that was any sort of argument! They talk about freedom and claim that freedom of choice is one of the things which distinguishes societies like Britain from the Soviet Union or Red China. They want us to stay in Europe because, they say, it widens the range of choice and opportunity. The young are especially inclined to indulge in this idealistic nonsense. They say — if you please — that job mobility is more important than the butter mountain or the snake in the tunnel. They applaud the idea of open frontiers and maintain, on the flimsy basis of a few years’ study of European history, that nationalism has caused more death and destruction than anything else in this century. Some are even marrying foreign girls and learning their language!
Britain, these people claim, is being much too defensive. Instead of squabbling about economic details during the referendum campaign we should be discussing how we could change the Community for the better. Harold Wilson’s re-negotiated terms show that change is possible — why not go on to take over the obviously vacant leadership?
I suppose the short answer to such troublemakers is the one Michael Foot once gave the Tories who objected to his notion that incomes, all incomes, should be limited to £5000 a year. If you don’t like it, go and live elsewhere! Mr Foot, Mr Benn and Mr Shore have a very clear idea of the kind of country they want Britain to be and they are not going to put up with a lot of malcontents who have allowed themselves to be bewitched by scheming Europeans. After June, we’ll have a nice bracing currency crisis because the Arabs and others will put their money out, thus releasing us from another tiresome obligation, and the Government will start printing ration books. The foreigners, notoriously bad losers, will introduce curbs of their own and our goods will be harder to sell, but Mr Benn can always print more millions to make up for it.
“If God had wanted Britain to be part of Europe,” Mary Wilson was quoted as saying not long ago, “he wouldn’t have dug a channel.” Precisely.