Status anxiety

I'm voting 'leave' to go back to the 1970s. What's wrong with that?

Staying in the European Union will mean the ebbing away of everything that makes our nation different and ­special

27 February 2016

9:00 AM

27 February 2016

9:00 AM

I don’t remember the last European referendum being nearly as dramatic as the current one. In 1975, we were being asked about our membership of the Common Market, not the -European Union, so there was less at stake — at any rate, that’s what the inners -wanted us to believe. The battle was also much more one-sided. Then as now, the pro-European side included the Prime Minister and the leaders of the other two main parties, but there were fewer cabinet ministers on the other side and it was easier to -caricature the antis (Tony Benn, Enoch Powell) as extremists. In 1975, the national press was overwhelmingly in favour of staying in and the ‘yes’ campaign was able to outspend the ‘no’ campaign several times over, neither of which are true today. The result, in which 67 per cent voted to stay in, was a foregone conclusion.

Then again, I was only 11 at the time. Like most of my -contemporaries, I felt closer to the continent across the Atlantic than the one across the Channel. For me, this was the era of Lost in Space and The Six Million Dollar Man. Trends in popular culture seemed to blow across from America with the Gulf Stream and found eager followers among my friends and me.

The big new thing in the -summer of 1975 was skateboarding and I remember pulling apart one of my sister’s roller skates and nailing each half to a piece of wood. The first time I took this contraption out for a test drive I didn’t wear any shoes and when it fell apart, as it inevitably did, I almost severed my little toe.

America felt accessible and exciting, the sort of place I could imagine living when I was older, whereas Europe was strange and foreign. It felt further away, somehow, which was odd because my parents had a summer house in the south of France. Perhaps it was because we always drove there — a two-day journey in our Morris Marina, described by Top Gear as one of the worst cars of all time. Being cooped up in the back for the best part of 48 hours, with nothing to stave off the boredom, left me with a lifelong horror of long car journeys.

The French were -considerably more hostile to British visitors then than they are now. Our house was in a small village at the foot of the Luberon called Auribeau and we were the only English residents. There was a French boy called Frédéric of about my age who lived opposite, but we weren’t friends. On the contrary, we were constantly coming to blows. Our two homes shared an outside lavatory and whenever I had to use it, particularly at night, I was terrified that Frédéric was going to push a scorpion under the door.

I daresay that any Francophiles reading this will point out that relations between our two countries are much better now, thanks to our membership of the European Union. Back then, most Britons didn’t think of ourselves as being in Europe — the headline ‘Storm in Channel, Continent isolated’ made complete sense to me — but as an independent country, comparable in stature, if not greater, than the land mass just off our eastern and southern coasts. Our membership of other regional blocs — the British Isles, the Commonwealth, Nato — loomed larger in the national psyche. Today, that’s no longer true. The Anglosphere has receded into the background and Europe is pressed up against our borders.

Eurosceptics like me are often accused of nostalgia, as if that’s a terrible thing, but I think we’d benefit from feeling a little more exceptional, like we did in 1975. One of the aims of the European project is to blur national differences, to reduce the gravitational force of our separate histories, to pool our identities as well as our sovereignty. All this is justified, say the federalists, to avoid a repeat of the bloody conflicts that tore the Continent apart in the last century. But is it really such a binary choice? Must we water down our sense of national identity almost to the point of nothingness in order to preserve the peace between us?

This, above all, is why I’ll be voting ‘leave’ on 23 June. It’s not just the inevitable erosion of our parliamentary sovereignty that I fear, but the gradual ebbing away of everything that makes Britain different and special. I want my children to feel they’ve won the lottery of life, not because they have a European passport, but because they have a British one.


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Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • alfred5

    Too much Immigration dilutes British culture …a very British culture , mind set and tradition has evolved over a millennia in these islands to be proud of , but we are in danger of being swamped by immigration of the wrong type ..up here in the N E of England towns like Middlesbrough are used as a dumping ground for immigrants because the housing is so cheap , regardless of the fact that there is already well above averages of unemployment …why should native born working class folk have to struggle in an already tight job market with immigrants from Third world countries ?…this is exactly the kind of environment that produces UKIP

  • mickey667

    “Must we water down our sense of national identity almost to the point of nothingness in order to preserve the peace between us?”

    No. We’re not. This has nothing to do with our identity. Paranoid guff.

  • GM17

    A weak piece. There is nothing in the EU, with all its imperfections, that causes a loss of national identity. Do you also wish to return to the economic condition of the 70s?

    • Todd Unctious

      Yes. We were all moire equal in the 70s. Plus with the 20% inflation caused by Heaths Tories our mortgage debt halved every 4 years.

    • Tim Conte

      As usual, Toby Young is about promoting Toby Young. He’s a magician at that, he articulates his views well, however illogical they may be.

    • rolandfleming

      I agree it’s an unusually weak piece, but if you spend some time talking to a few real Euro federalists, you’ll find that the destruction of national identity is indeed one of their chief goals, and that they take any evidence of dilution of national identity as a triumph. Here in Germany the cities are full of Graffiti stating “No Borders!”, “**** Frontex!”, “Die Nations, Die!”, “Destroy Germany”, etc. I think you’d be surprised how strongly some pro-EU continental Europeans feel about the idea of expunging any concept of nation from Europe. Not to say they are the majority, just a very vocal and extreme minority that has scant counterpart in the UK.

  • davidshort10

    i’ll be voting that way too and many more will be doing so. We will vote out but I wonder if the government will allow it.

  • The 1970s. Erk!

    As a decade (and so ignoring the Suez crisis), I would have thought it the worst of the 20th century for the UK being deserving of admiration.


    • Todd Unctious

      The Suez crisis was 1956. You mean the Oil shock of 1973.

      • Tim Conte

        He clearly infers that had the Suez Crisis been in the 1970’s, it would have been even worse. I don’t think people who read the Spectator are ignorant enough to miss that by a good 20 odd years.

        • Todd Unctious

          Why would anyone infer that the Suez crisis was in the 70s?

  • Tim Conte

    Whenever this little man advocates a position, it’s worth looking at the detail. Invariably it will encourage you to take the opposite line.

  • Tim Conte

    Dan Hannan makes the case very well. Toby Young, meh… not so much.

  • Shorne

    ‘A reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards’
    Franklin Roosevelt.

    • red2black

      Does that mean a progressive is a somnambulist walking forwards?

  • diqi

    I don’t hark back to the 70’s at all, there was far too much conflict and violence in the UK (IRA bombings, rubbish piled on the streets, Miner’s strike, IMF) and in the world (Vietnam, Banghladesh, Middle East). But, then as now I had for more connection to The far east, Australia and North America than to Europe.

    My abiding experience of Europe has been the constant disrespect and disdain shown us by Europeans – they can’t even be bothered to hang our flag properly. I have never felt welcome so why should we constantly give up what is important to us, of value to us, to appease such people?

    Better to leave and cooperate as we need rather than be treated as a rich, uncouth and stupid cousin pushed into a corner by our more “nuanced and sophisticated betters”.

    I will vote leave because my perspective is outward to the world, not towards the small minded, insular and autocracratic EU government.

  • James Chilton

    Apart from the imperative matter of recovering parliamentary sovereignty, cultural considerations are also vital in the Out campaign. We can’t return to any particular time, but we can go forward in the freedoms we used to enjoy.

  • Tamerlane

    Bad breath and side burns, no thanks. Britain decided to stay in the EEC in the forlorn hope that would turn around the economic catastrophe of Labour government. Of course it didn’t, what turned it around was the shinning success of a Tory government and the reforms of Thatcher bringing wealth, prosperity and opportunity to all. The saviour of the nation.

    • red2black

      There was a dark side to it all.

      • Tamerlane

        Yep. Arthur Scargill.

        • red2black

          I live in a former coal mining area, and at the time there was a real fear that civil war was on the cards.
          This is what’s under way at Crofton, north of Barnsley:

          • Tamerlane

            I was being facetious, good luck to the Crofton mine.

          • Wiggi237

            I came from a Steel Town and Mining Town so good luck to Croften mine.

          • Todd Unctious

            You are seldom anything other than facetious. Sometimes you are oafish, others just rude.
            Oh and it is so vanishingly rare that you are ever correct we count it on the thumbs of one hand.

          • Tamerlane

            Is that the Royal ‘we’ or just you and Big George?

      • Wiggi237

        Yes and they think we are so ignorant to believe it.

    • Wiggi237

      Tamerlane, According to the latest Tory reports we are heading for trouble! As we speak Osbourne is re vamping the Budget to get more tax in! What he needs to do is STOP any more immigration! They are adding costs to us and Stop paying out to so called Dictator Governments! While it looks great for the record books it is us that foot the bill and the misery. and YES I vote Tory!

      • Todd Unctious

        We are heading for trouble due to Tory mismanagement of the economy. Wasteful doubling of the National debt in just six years, allowing the banks and the rich to avoid tax and any responsibility.
        Migrants cost us nothing , they are net contributors. The costs come from luring in the oligarchs, the Mafia and the 0.1% who displace hard working Brits.

        • Wiggi237

          Actually migrants cost this Country in the latest round of information£886million a year in benefits. Also news from the G20 reports last night on BBC TV it is the consensus that if we leave it would destroy the EU and cause havoc across the Globe! IF this is in any way near the truth Cameron messed up bad. One he wasn’t asking enough and he sold us down the river.
          The lies the Tories have told us and would love us to believe in the frighteners is CRAP

          • Todd Unctious

            Wow.£886 million. That is less than 0.5% of what the banking crisis cost us. It equates to just £13 each per year.
            You people would ruin our country. You would have our currency trashed. You would tie our hands politically.
            We have spent 200 years ensuring no one power dominates in Europe and you would turn our back on this crucial task.
            You do the bidding of the 1%. Blaming immigrants and the poor for the economic woes caused by greedy bankers and a corrupt elite. Shane on you all.

          • whorya

            You have your second point upside down. And as for only £13 pounds. It is “my” £13 pounds to do with what I want.

          • Father Todd Untious

            I don’t know what you mean. My second point upside down ?

          • whorya

            Are you saying you believe the BBC. Big Brother Corporation?…

  • TrippingDwarves

    We need our mojo back. And the French need theirs, and the Germans theirs, and so too the Italians and the Spanish and all the rest. National identity fires a national spirit, and this is a good thing so long as it doesn’t slide into nationalism and bigotry (as we are seeing in some parts of the UK even today). Give us back our mojo and let us have looser, but still very effective, trade and security agreements. It’s possible. Even necessary, not just for us, but for the rest of Europe too.

  • red2black

    There was the Three Day Week, which meant there were just over 121 weeks in a normal year, and 122 weeks in a ‘leap’ one.
    What had been overlooked was that this meant were no weekends for ‘time off’ and a pint in the pub. No wonder the coal miners went on strike.

  • SirTerence08

    We, were conned back then, and we will not be taken for granted again. If you care for our country,
    then ‘Vote Leave’ or leave the consequences to your children and grandchildren, and all the future
    generations of what was once ‘Great Britain’..!
    Brexit: ‘Vote Out’ ‘Get Out’ and Stay Out..!

  • Wiggi237

    In this tech age with Europe still not being able to present an Audit in over 40 years shows what a mess it must be in. Is this not enough to claim OUT! Just what happens to the money what goes into this Giant Pot? Who pays in the most and what does each and every Country get out of it? Why as the second largest paying in customer do we not get any help out of the Disaster Fund?
    We did more business out of the EU than we did in it! However it doesn’t stop there our exports to the EU amounted only to 5% of what they imported to US! Are they now going to charge us to import their goods to US if we come out? We are in fact the EU’s biggest customers! NO way.
    Protection comes via the UN as it did when the Yugoslavs war came about and Where the US and GB did the dirty work for the EU. As we have done in the past. An EU army? Your having a laugh!

  • Undeadly

    This is an abortion of an argument .We weren’t voting in ’75 for in or out, we were voting whether or not to join the Common Market. We have never been asked to join the EU, EEC, the Federation of European States or Angela Merkel’s Socialist States of Germany. And if we don’t vote out now when we are asked we won’t be asked in the future. Exactly how did we wind up in this wretched Union, were we really well led in its creation or simply betrayed?

    • plainsdrifter

      I rather agree. The big mistake – in hindsight – was joining in the first place.

  • Mike Biddell

    Errrr in 75 we were voting if we wanted to come out. We were already in (thanks Mr Heath). A European State was not even on the agenda. It was then just a trade agreement. Since then it has morphed into an horrendous gravy train, with more negatives than positives (in my view).

    • Wiggi237

      Actually we have never been offered a chance to leave or come out! We were told on every single occasion when a new treaty came around that there ‘was nothing to worry about it will not effect us!’ That has been our Politicians attitude ever since it came from the Common Market Referendum where foolishly we voted in! It was found by an American investigation at the time to be almost corrupt beyond belief! It had subsidies on just about everything especially ‘Olive Oil’ that was transported all over Europe by train collecting a subsidy from every station it stopped at! The secret was too change the formulation of the Olive oil while the train was in motion they say!

  • whorya

    Read this rubbish again “All this is justified, say the (federalists), (Not Democratise) to avoid a repeat of the bloody conflicts that tore the Continent apart in the last century. But is it really such a binary choice? Must we water down our sense of national identity almost to the point of nothingness in order to preserve the peace between us?” Well not with NATO, and the UN. That is all behind us. It was Germany after all that caused it. And they were neutralized after the conflicts.

    Even in our own armed forces. The regiments fiercely kept their own identities, as did differing sections of the navy, and Air force. The Scott’s, Welch, Irish, English were proud to be who they were. But also of the same Army. “As we should be now (British). Not European”.

    We are getting watered down from within, (Thank you Tony Blair). We don’t need to be any more thinned out by Europeans. Google. Coudenhoven-Kellergi plan. This will open your eyes to what “is” happening to-day. This was a plan for Europe 100yrs ago, 50yrs before even the EEC was thought off. Get reading folks….

    i.e. The 2010 winner of the Coudenhoven-Kellergi award, Was the German dictator. Angela Merkel.

  • bob


  • Wiggi237

    No damn way! I do not believe anything that comes out of Europe or David Cameron.
    I do think we are on the same wavelength though. It is not though, just Tony the liar Blair, Cameron and his instructed (don’t want to lose my job) cabinet flunky’s. I also think the US and any other interfering outsiders should keep the nose out of the argument. I would also hope that anybody in our country that has not been here for at least 10 years should not be allowed to vote on this issue.