PICTURE this. You are at the helm of RMS Titanic, pride of the White Star Line. It is the late evening of April 14, 1912, and up ahead in the dark ocean you see the looming bulk of a monstrous iceberg.
You advise the captain you are taking evasive action. He instructs you to hold your course. ‘This ship is unsinkable,’ he scoffs, sipping on a pink gin. (I don’t know if Captain Edward Smith was a toffee-nosed old Etonian, but for today’s purposes, he was).
Why risk your fate, so many lives, you ask? Hold your course, says he, else you will never work a White Star liner again in your life.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
In shaving mirrors and make-up mirrors across London this morning, senior Conservative MPs and ministers are facing that helmsman’s dilemma. Short-term career opportunism, or the fate of a once-proud nation?
In a sad reflection of modern politics, most will betray their consciences and stand four-square behind foppish David Cameron’s crass treason.
In a direct echo of 1938, he is the Neville Chamberlain of 2016. ‘Peace for our time’ said the appeasing Chamberlain. ‘A new deal for Britain,’ cries deluded Cameron.
The Prime Minister went cap in hand to Brussels and they even took the cap. He has won no concessions. He’s been bitch-slapped.
Every so-called EU promise he brings back will last until about 20 minutes after the referendum voting closes. Nothing he has been laughingly offered is enforceable without treaty change. And there is zero appetite for treaty change. Zero.
Jean-Claude Juncker the European Commission president despises the UK anyway. He poured scorn on Wednesday saying “the UK will not leave”. He said he doesn’t need a Plan B. French President Francois Hollande was barely less insulting.
It’s a joke. It’s a crass deceit. Worse, if Cameron succeeds, he will chain us to the guardrail of a craft that is destined to sink. The only question is which iceberg will finish the job.
Greece remains bankrupt, barely feeding off Germany’s shrivelling teet. It faces civil war. Portugal, Italy and Spain are basically bust. Even France is in trouble.
The new (and poor) eastern EU nations filling their boots off western largesse will continue to hold the Union to ransom until it hits the buffers. And it will.
As for the Euro, the single currency? It is a chain round the neck of basically every economy except Germany and, one by one, will bring Greece-like woes on the lesser states.
DAVID Cameron sees himself as the reforming saviour of the European project. Sadly, he doesn’t see that he’s missing a golden opportunity to do exactly that.
By leading the UK out, with dignity – as he promised if he couldn’t get the assurances he sought, and he hasn’t – he could set the EU the bold example it desperately needs. We could lead, instead of cravenly being told to do as we’re told.
The UK is Europe’s biggest export market. Trade would absolutely continue unabated. Money talks. Flying on holiday to Rome? No change. Driving down to the Dordogne? Ditto. Buying a retirement pad on the Costa del Sol? No change.
EU migrants coming to work here? (and yes, we do need them). No change, except that we get to say who comes and goes.
The UK could show other nations, themselves increasingly unhappy at the Big Brother in Brussels, that Europe can be the looser affiliation of neighbour states that it was always meant to be, not the monocratic dictatorship that it has become.
But if the PM is truly serious about reforming the EU there is only one way – to call their supercilious bluff.
Sadly the only thing Churchillian about quisling Cameron is his resemblance to that nodding dog that sells car insurance.
He can’t chivvy, persuade, or negotiate with nations who treat him, and us, with barely disguised contempt – so instead he will bully and threaten the very people who put him in his gilded cage.
If, today, he persists in pretending this process has been anything less than a slap in the face, then the man is a craven disgrace.
That will be final proof that David Cameron is willing to sink the nation to preserve his own overblown ego. But don’t worry – he’ll have his private lifeboat tethered up and ready, just in case.
The rest of us plebs can take our chances.
APPROXIMATELY 60 hours on aeroplanes over just 16 days equips you with a certain insight into the pros and cons of long-distance travel.
I certainly got back from my Oz/NZ trip with a few ideas that airlines would do well to embrace, if ever they get serious about passenger comfort. Legroom is one thing, decent grub and free grog another. But they are missing a serious trick.
You’ll be aware that when waiting at the boarding gate, the staff invite priority first and business class customers aboard – then anyone needing assistance or travelling with a small child. It’s this latter category where I think action is definitely needed.
Personally, I’d give mothers with children aged under three a warm coat and stow them in the hold with their pushchairs.
Failing that, they should all be housed in the back of the plane, with airlines building soundproof doors between them and the rest of the cabin. See how they like it.
However, even this might not be necessary if my next idea is implemented. Complimentary beer and wine is fine and dandy, but Calpol should be force-fed to infants. A bottle apiece should do it nicely.
And if there’s a problem with that, the trolly-dollies should have an industrial supply of dummies to shove in the bleating little so-and-so’s gobs.
I spent 17 hours between Sydney, Bangkok and Dubai two feet from a screeching 13-month-old – probably teething – whose dimwit mother could manage nothing more than a “there, there daahling” in her strangulated Aussie twang.
At least she made an effort however. The mums who joined the last leg from Dubai to Manchester simply ignored their howling offspring altogether, as if they had bugger all to do with them.
I’m sure they didn’t intend driving the rest of the plane to distraction and it was just a different approach to motherhood. Still, when we occasionally got a few minutes of silent respite, one bairn would start again and immediately set off another half dozen of the little sods up and down the plane.
And me having the kind of luck I do, the plug-in headphones weren’t working properly. I couldn’t even shut the brats out that way. Grrrrr.....
A LAST few whimsical notes on my trip down under, and a definite eyebrow-raiser was the bar near Auckland airport which implemented a 15% increase on everything, including a simple beer – because it was a bank holiday and the management had to pay staff extra.
I’m not sure if that’s enough to drive a man to drink, or put him off it for life.
MY OLD Kiwi rugby teammate Gary would rather his daughters go on the game than marry an Aussie.
He proudly displays an old photograph of the final ball of a cricket match between them in 1981. New Zealand needed a six to tie the match, and Aussie skipper Greg Chappell instructed the bowler (his brother Trevor) to roll it underarm, making it impossible.
“That’s the difference right there between them and us,” said Gary. The type at the bottom of his photo says ‘Lest We Forget’.
THE Aussies still employ the Queen’s English (largely) though I’m not sure about the signwriter at Newtown Plumbing & Building Service, near my hotel in Sydney.
It read ‘Nudown Plumen & Billden Service’. Mind you, we probably have schools here now who would give that a grade A for being phonetically correct.