By Gareth R Roberts
I remember when it was: March 2004, I was at Twickenham, a Welshman proudly supporting his team – for us Cymro, Rugby union is a demonstration of our class, our defiance, our culture. We’re good at rugby, it’s the one thing that when we compete against our bigger English neighbours we sometimes win.
But we didn’t win that day.
England were world champions – they deserved to win the match.
Me and my mates went and sat disconsolately in a pub in Richmond. Beer helps – the culture of rugby and friendship lends itself to getting over things, and anyway we were a group of men in our thirties for whom life was good. Proud Welsh boys, the grandsons of colliers and labourers, the sons of teachers and civil servants, good comprehensive boys who’d had the privilege of having the benevolent state fund the adventure of our education and allow us to fulfil our potential. We were closing the gap.
Then into the pub walked a group of England fans, you know the type, large and loud, wax jackets and ruddy faces, oozing confidence. They were the grandsons of the public school educated upper middle class, but they were no better than us. Surely, they were no better than us, not any more. We were all the same now. We may have come from the Conwy Valley, from Blaenau Ffestiniog, from Waun Fawr, and they from the Home Counties, but at that moment, we were all in the same pub in Richmond – the gap had been closed: the NHS, social security, the end of national service, the Education Act, university grants, social housing – these were the things that had helped close the gap. These were the elements of the post war social contract that meant that I and my friends had the same opportunities as them – the same chances to be healthy, to be housed, to be educated, to travel, to read, to play, to make our mistakes, to have love affairs and win and lose, to be a twat, to be a hero, everything that makes the human condition so uniquely brilliant were all available to us as well. We had enjoyed those things. It was our right.
There was no animosity between the groups. No, rugby fans aren’t like that. But, after a while, something else happened. Something more pernicious, more insidious than the tribal aggression and violence that you get at football matches, because after a while came the sneering cry from the Barbour jacketed brigade – ‘Sing Taffy’s Sing.’
I understand now. I get it. In those three words, there was a demonstration of their power. In those three words, there was a reminder to us that even though we might be in the same pub, even though we might have been lucky enough to go to the same universities and were now enjoying careers in the same corridors of industry and profession – we should know our place: lower than them. They might congratulate us on our success, they might pay lip service to our great ‘A’ levels and our wonderful culture, but at the end of the day, they would remind us that we owed everything to the state, and that meant that as far as they were concerned we were still less than them. They still owned us. They were still better than us. We were the Taffys. We provided the coal and the steel and the mountains, we provided the opposition on the rugger pitch and the singing afterwards, but they were still better.
And the worst thing. The thing I fucking regret even now, years later, was that we bloody sang.
Today, feels similar to that.
Today, as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg and others celebrate what they see as their triumphant acquisition of a deal to leave the European Union, it feels as though the real elite, the real establishment have flexed their muscles and are now in the process of taking back control.
And for them Brexit is just the start of the process.
They’ve never been comfortable with the basic principles of the European Union: collectivism, partnership, compromise and negotiation based upon an equality amongst all member nations is anathema to them. Sure, initially, they tolerated it, but in recent years their suspicions about Europe have turned from ridicule to open hostility as the EU has sought to introduce measures to prevent tax evasion, and Freedom of Movement has introduced into the country people who, perhaps, do not defer to them in the same way.
Johnson’s deal to leave the EU demonstrates this in spades – no guarantees for the rights of workers and an end to the ‘level playing field’, which ensured that the people of the UK enjoyed the same basic levels of protection in most aspects of their lives as their European cousins.
We will lose all of that with the deal that is being lauded by Johnson and his cronies.
We must take back control they told us – but for who? Not for us, that’s for sure, not for the ordinary and the hapless, the skint and the hardworking, not for poor bastards who just want to do their best.
The biggest con trick in political history.
Make no mistake, taking back control is all about a seismic change away from the Britain that had its social policy determined by the basic principles of the social contract that provided people like me and my mates and our parents with the opportunities to better ourselves, and towards the exclusivity of the truly neo-liberal economic model, where low taxes, negligible regulations and social security provided by charity rather than the state is the norm.
If you think austerity was brutal, then you haven’t seen anything yet. That is the world of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg and all the other charlatans who are hell bent on turning our once proud nation into an irrelevant and nasty little island stuck in the middle of a cold and lonely North Atlantic. And in this new world, this new ‘Great Britain’ the social mobility that we have enjoyed, the closing of the gap, that we nearly pulled off, will be gone, instead we will now be expected to know our place.
Sing Taffy’s Sing.