Each morning, as I turn on my radio to hear the 6 o'clock news, I ask myself; has the country gone mad? I have lived in the United Kingdom for most of my 79 years, a life that started as the great depression was ending, endured the world war and the severe austerity following it, watched as the welfare state was built and the nation became more healthy and just, with life expectancy increasing steadily.
I saw waves of immigrants come to run the railways and do many of the menial tasks as well as to provide the nurses and doctors that we were unable to produce ourselves. I watched as the conditions in which labourers laboured improved, thanks to the work of the trade unions, and saw the disadvantaged acquire a safety net from welfare. I saw the foundation of the European Union and those two ancient rivals, Germany and France, at last become true allies; after British accession I saw first-hand the respect we received and the influence we had in shaping European law and regulations. After 1,000 years of enmity, at last we were part of the continent of Europe, the second most powerful trading block in the world and an essential moderating force between the other great powers, the United States, China and Russia.
In terms of health and prosperity, the people of Britain as a whole have never been more fortunate. If you don't believe me, read accounts of life in the 1940s or, worse, the industrial revolution. Or for international comparisons, in the Middle East, rural China, or the ghettos of large US cities. But while this has been going on we have become complacent and self-obsessed, greedy for more and careless of the plight of others, for the world around us has changed. Capitalism has lost whatever moral compass it might have possessed and money is pursued for its own sake, moving excessive amounts to the richest and leaving a large number resentful and envious and a minority in despair and poverty.
As a people, we have lost sight of what matters, so I shall remind you. The four horsemen of the modern apocalypse are warfare, injustice, pestilence and climate change, all literally existential threats, threats to the existence of civilisation and major contributors to migration of peoples. These are what matter to our children and grandchildren. To resist these malign forces requires international cooperation and treaties, collaboration with those who are closest to us both physically and in the stage their civilisation has reached, the Europe of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
I have seen how, since we joined the EU, previously poor countries of the Soviet bloc have been brought out of poverty, Europe has become one of the world's most powerful and innovative industrial and commercial regions, and collaboration across the great universities of Europe has provided so many innovative opportunities in science and the arts. A generation of truly European citizens has been nurtured, such that the continent has become one and we are an essential part of it, a super-nation that is admired throughout the world for its culture and science, using English as its common language. This is the big picture and we are part of it. But big pictures can be spoiled by small mistakes or by vandalism.
The small mistake was that made by each one of those who voted to leave the EU, understandable in the circumstances but a mistake nevertheless, because they didn't weigh the potential benefits and costs. The same mistake would be made by subsequently voting for Scottish independence, short of certainty that we would be accepted into the EU on current terms, since the issues are identical. The vandalism was more serious, as it was committed and funded by people with sinister intentions, little Englanders.
Why did a small group of billionaires, newspaper owners and tax exiles gather in the Ritz hotel in London to drink champagne with Farage after the referendum result was announced? These were not people who have the interests of the poor and disadvantaged at heart; their lives tell us that they are driven by self-interest. If anyone is to gain from Brexit, these people are, with their friends in the international financial sector. And who is to lose if the British economy sinks?
So a small group of right-wing fanatics and political opportunists in the Conservative party in England, aided by a rabble-rousing xenophobic party and its demagogic leader, is dragging Britain out of the EU without once telling us what are the advantages and disadvantages; simply talking about sovereignty and taking back control, as if we should feel more comfortable if people like them were in charge.