Opinion

Paul McNamee: Let them eat crisps

The Queen should consider being more like Mark E Smith

The Queen should consider being more like Mark E Smith. That would take the Brexit debate in a fascinating new direction.

Both were in the public mind last week. It was the first anniversary of the death of Smith, The Fall founder and centrifugal force, a crabby, irascible outsider of British music and culture.

The Queen, less of an outsider, was laying it all out over Brexit. In a gentle, Queen-like manner.

Find “common ground”, she said. Never lose sight of the bigger picture, she said. Have more respect for the other’s point of view.

It’s worth listening to, of course, as she is the sovereign and we’re reminded a lot that sovereignty is at the heart of the Brexit mission. Also, given the European roots of her entire family it’s no surprise she can see beyond her kingdom’s borders.

Clearly the subtext of her majesty’s words was missed by big noise Brexiteer Mark Francois, who delivered a bellicose dismissal of Airbus chief Tom Enders.

Enders had warned that a No Deal Brexit could result in “potentially very harmful decisions”, among them the move of production of their aircraft out of Britain, resulting in 14,000 jobs lost and another 100,000 in the support chain under threat.

Francois said Enders, a German, was guilty of “Teutonic arrogance” and then started to compare this employer of thousands of people with “bullying” Germans at the D-Day landings.

Mark Francois is MP for Rayleigh and Wickford and has a majority of more than 20,000.

Meanwhile, journalist and Fall expert Mic Wright singled out an apposite Smith quote that got to the heart of the Brexit issue. It was about that very British institution, crisps. Also, how a small cabal of opinion shifters can influence a nation. It’s worth repeating.

“A lot of Europeans think the British are great,” said Mark E Smith. “I personally don’t. One of the examples I say is crisps. Because there’s a pressure group, isn’t there? So, some idiot in a crisp company had the idea of asking what flavours they want. You go to a supermarket and you can’t get plain crisps, can you?

Things might not be quite as broken as we fear

“It’s like democracy gone mad, isn’t it? It must be only eight per cent of crisp eaters who take the time… they control your life, the pressure groups. Because the marketing managers can’t be bothered to do some proper work and make some plain crisps.”

It should be added here that Smith loved the disruption to the status quo that Brexit brought. He was no flag-waving Remainer. But still, he’s on to something. Besides, The Fall were the band described by John Peel as “always different; always the same”. They are the ultimate Brexit-debate band.

While we wait on the Queen getting her Smith-style fury together, there is a second part of what she said that hasn’t been widely reported. Her quotes were made during a Women’s Institute speech. She paid tribute to the organisation’s “patience, friendship, a strong community-focus and considering the needs of others”.

But it’s not just the WI who are worth saluting for a desire to look after the needs of others. Last week a YouGov poll found that around four in 10 Britons volunteer. That is a huge number, a significant number.

It wasn’t all for altruistic reasons. Many of those polled – over 70 per cent – said it improved their own mental health. But that is a bonus in itself. By helping others, your own lot is improved.

While we’re all still working through the Brexit trenches this is a bright light worth holding onto. Things might not be quite as broken as we fear.

Still, I’m waiting for the Queen to front a one-off Fall tribute night. Attention on that would unite everybody.

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