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Yes or no, minister?

  • Published at 03:12 pm June 20th, 2016
Yes or no, minister?
Britain is poised to take a momentous decision -- stay in the EU or go out. In fact, if we look at history, the relationship between Britain and Europe had always been a strained one. Yes, there were vociferous Europhiles but Euro-skeptics had always made their voices heard. The other day, while watching the 80s TV political drama Yes, Minister, it was evident that the mistrust of Europe stretches quite far back. In the episode “Party Games,” actor Paul Eddington, playing the role of Jim Hacker, minister for administrative affairs (not the brightest of politicians) and guided by the shrewd civil servant Sir Humphrey (Nigel Hawthorne), suddenly finds himself in a situation where the path to him becoming PM is deliberately created in the event of a voluntary retirement of the standing premier. But Hacker has to also show the public that, despite looking after abstruse administrative complexities, he is also a true Brit and, therefore, has a row with the Europeans over the sanctity of the British sausage. The union wants a uniformed standard for all sausages while Hacker wants to save the British one, which, as the episode obliquely suggests, has less meat. Anyway, the point here is clear, to come to the limelight as a person capable of becoming the PM, Hacker has to show his resolute stance to save what is termed quintessentially “British.” So, he gets a rousing reaction when he denounces, what he calls, a bureaucratic Bonaparte in Brussels and champions the greatness of the Brit sausage, eventually riding the public support to Number 10 and the role of the PM. In the impassioned speech, he also underlines how small British businesses had to close down as a result of Britain entering the EU. All throughout the series, there are countless pejorative references to Britain’s often subdued role in the union and, once again, in Yes, Prime Minister, the wrangling is resuscitated over how the Euro tunnel trains should be operated and which should be the language of preference. It seems that a large section of people had always wanted to remain separate. The other day, someone was asking me to guess what the people might vote, “stay in” or “go out”? Well, for some reason, I feel the votes will be for the latter. Of course, I may be proved wrong, but from what the news channels show us, most people who are not within the power structure seem to favour moving out. What repercussions will that have? Well, there have been a plethora of articles on how overall trade will be hit with grave consequences in a time of economic austerity. However, going out and being independent may inspire Britain to become a bit more adventurous. With the people I have talked to, there seems to be an inherent desire to face a set of unknown challenges -- notice that glint of thrill emanating from the possibility of facing it all alone. Whatever happens, the lesson here from the referendum for the rest of the world is about the inclusive power of democracy. What we can learn is the process by which the people are given the right to express their opinion by which the government will inevitably act. We saw this in the issue of deciding whether Scotland wants to stay with Great Britain or not and in less than two years, we are seeing it for the European question. In many other countries, including Bangladesh, this system of permitting the people to decide on pivotal matters needs to be replicated. Alas, I cannot remember any occasion when the people were asked to decide on a contentious matter. There was a huge political kerfuffle over the scrapping of the provision of the caretaker government, though the common people, the actual voters, had very little say in it. Maybe we could have been a better democracy had we asked the opinion of the masses before striking out this option. Going back to the lessons from a TV drama that aired more than 30 years ago, it appears that much of the issues presented in the series continue to have resonance in a completely different age. Both the actors, Eddington and Hawthorne, are dead, yet the political wrangling involving the uneasy relation with the EU is very much the talking point now. I have very little idea as to how either move will impact Bangladesh but, I must say, I do love this transparent approach of permitting the people to voice their wishes.