My Chaplain during my year as Mayor is Canon Dr, Rod Garner . His most recent column in the Southport Visiter explains why he will being voting to remain in the European Union. It reminds me of something Russell Johnson might have said...
THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
It’s 25 years since Dr. Helen Sharman became the first British female astronaut to go into space. In a recent radio interview she was asked if the original journey felt a long time ago. Without hesitation she replied that it was all still wonderfully fresh and real. The enthusiasm in her voice left me in doubt that this was so. In particular she recalled how from space, geographical boundaries quickly melt away. As she gazed upon our blue and fragile planet, her attention was initially and quite understandably directed to our own country. Fairly quickly however, she became absorbed by the continents and then to the Earth itself, bounded only by unending darkness. Countries and states, walls and boundaries, historical separations caused by wars or geological shifts over aeons of time, seemed to dissolve before her eyes. Now there was just the Earth in its splendour and teeming life in all its forms.
I’ve been thinking about the interview and how it has some bearing on how I will vote on Thursday 23 rd June. That’s the day of course when the UK decides if it will remain in leave the European Union (EU). By then we can expect more contradictory facts, opinions and arguments ranging from the plausible to the ludicrous or even offensive. I’m still listening to most of them and it’s not easy separating truth from fiction. My mind is made up however. For me, this important decision does not rest solely on the key economic and political issues that are shaping the current debate. I do want the best outcomes for Britain’s future in terms of jobs, travel, national security and manageable control of our borders but there is something else that compels me. It has do with my sense of European history and the way our shared cultural values have been shaped so profoundly by Greek philosophy, Roman law and the religious traditions of Judaism and Christianity. Put simply, who I am, where I belong, the people and places, values and ideas that have influenced me, extend far beyond these shores. I am proud to be British and can sing ‘Jerusalem’ with a voice worthy of the Last Night of the Proms. I think our inherited values are worth defending and only wish they were more evident in blighted parts of our world. We also invented football and produced George Best. Those last two facts alone should give us pride of place at any international table!
With all this acknowledged however, I still feel a citizen of a larger European world separated only by a meagre strip of the English Channel. We are an island race with our own proud traditions but we are also indebted to wider and no less gracious influences beyond the UK. Difference is life-enhancing and enables us to grow and learn. Good politics like good religion should seek to break down barriers not build new ones and encourage us to do more than focus on purely national interests. Viewed from space, which is another way of looking at the world with the mind of the Creator, we all appear the same with the creative gifts and shared humanity that can enrich our common life in an increasingly precarious world. When the big day comes on 23rd June I’m voting ‘in’ partly because of the question of who I think I am and, furthermore, where we fit as a nation in the bigger scheme of things. It’s a matter of personal and shared identity as well as beneficial trading arrangements and secure borders. You might want to ask yourself the same question if you are still undecided.
Canon Dr, Rod Garner