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The Personal Column: Control over our own lives

A chance encounter prompts Jeff Cloves to ruminate on Brexit, lithium-mining in Cornwall and the arms trade

Like many who work from home, I have the radio on for most of the day. So Radio 4 or 5 is a chattering background while I pretend to get on with it. Now and again I deliberately listen to something but mostly it just keeps me company – as do my cats. Thus it was recently that my attention was suddenly caught by a woman saying on air that she was one of many who regarded Cornwall ‘as a country not a county’.

My ears pricked up at this for I’d recently been to Cornwall for the Charles Causley Festival in Launceston. Causley (1917–2003) is regarded by some in Cornwall as ‘the best poet laureate we never had’ and I like his work myself. However, I wasn’t au fait with the context of the programme as I hadn’t been listening attentively. However, as always, I felt an instinctive sympathy for any breakaway movement.

Notwithstanding the perils of extreme nationalism, ‘small is beautiful’ is an ideal/aspiration whose time has surely come and is ever more relevant. Early in September, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, made a speech in which he warned that the UK would regret leaving the EU and advocating further moves towards the creation of the United States of Europe. He didn’t say this in so many words but that was his drift and my own reasons for wanting to be out of the EU were further reinforced.

As I’ve written here before, my own objections to the EU are rooted in pacifism and anarchism. The EU is an enthusiastic member of NATO, is committed to the free market and global capitalism, and is a force towards the homogenisation of national cultures. Whereas I celebrate difference, Mr Juncker and his ilk feel safer with sameness. So far I’ve waited in vain for these issues to be aired in the great non-debate about Brexit and for all the enthusiasm of the Corbynistas, the Labour Party’s attitudes are unclear to say the least.

Shortly after coming in on the end of the Cornish breakaway debate, I caught the fag-end of a programme about Wales and the impact that membership of the EU had had on employment there. The closing of the mines and the destruction of communities inevitably rose again and my old ambivalence was once more exposed. Most of me is extremely glad that young men no longer have to work in the pits to survive economically, while recognising that mining was shut down without any thought or preparation given to economic rebirth. This was a national destructive disgrace whose fallout contaminates yet. Which brings me back to Cornwall.

Also half-heard on Radio 4 was an entrepreneur committed to reviving the Cornish mining industry. Not tin this time but lithium.

Lithium? Also present in local ores it seems, lithium is used in batteries, and batteries have become hot (sometimes literally) property. The welcome – but of course two-edged – impetus to make cars and lorries powered by electricity has produced a boom in making batteries. And so it goes. How depressing that one consequence of non-polluting motor vehicles might be to drive young people underground again. And as all manufacturing increases pollution too, so we spin around in ever decreasing/increasing circles.

Another national disgrace is the UK arms industry’s profit-driven embrace of selling arms to gangster states and the time-worn arguments about the collapse of employment if we don’t sell them arms. If we don’t sell them others will, goes that sad old justification. I do believe that all workers in the arms industry would sooner make peaceful useful artefacts than guns, bombs and battleships. Trade unions have vainly promoted ideas for harnessing that know-how and creative energy into benign production for many years.

It’s instructive to note that in the EU referendum both Wales and Cornwall voted to leave the EU despite the Remainers’ promises of economic revival. The arguments for and against are muddy and complex indeed. Personally, I remain upbeat because, albeit belatedly and gradually, these issues are entering the national debate and offer real possibilities and opportunities to rethink attitudes towards our social and economic well-being and – above all – to have control over our own lives.