My Top 10 Live Bands – 1

Iron Maiden

Tremble with terror, ye unbelievers! No recording industry fortress can withstand the unstoppable musical force unleashed upon this mortal realm by the musical alchemists of Albion!

Iron Maiden are so much more than just an astonishing and amazing live spectacle. They’re a living, breathing, libertarian resistance that glories in taunting an entertainment elite that long ago decided such louts were just too uncouth, too incorrect and generally unworthy to tread the sanctified and hallowed halls of the mainstream media complex.

Cast out and denied the limelight that was rightly theirs, Iron Maiden set about raising an army of fans and building an entertainment war machine the likes of which this world has seldom seen.

They have succeeded, and they have swept all before them.

My personal relationship with Maiden began way back in 1986, when I first saw them play live at Hammersmith. For any readers who remember, this was the gig that featured a brief appearance by some hapless kid who was placed there courtesy of Jim’ll Fix It…ahem, moving swiftly on.

I’ve seen them four times in total, roughly once a decade, and on each occasion I’ve witnessed how this insatiable media monster has grown bigger, stronger and ever more ambitious with the passage of time. With musicianship, equipment and a stage spectacle second to none, Iron Maiden have first conquered and then colonised parts of this world where the corporate media machine often fears to tread.

Fronted by the coolest living Englishman, an Iron Maiden gig isn’t just a great concert, it’s a major event. The ground trembles as the beast approaches, accompanied by a roar of jet engines as a customised Boeing 747 named Ed Force One touches down. This is no magic carpet for a spoiled pop princess, but rather a fully liveried workhorse transporting band, crew and tons of equipment to every conceivable corner of the globe. Naturally, Bruce Dickinson himself is at the controls as Ed Force One continues its epic journey to spread the dark gospel.

Oddly enough, the sheer scale of an Iron Maiden gig means that it’s actually best viewed from a bit of a distance. The stage and lighting are of such epic proportions that it’s easy to miss the bigger picture from close up. Naturally, there’s no need to worry about not hearing if you’re further back, as Iron Maiden’s infamous four axe attack can be heard for miles around.

Now well into their fourth decade in the music business, Iron Maiden have managed to avoid the rock ‘n’ roll tiger traps which have turned far too many of their contemporaries into monosyllabic, shambling caricatures. They’re fit, able, independent and spoiling for the next conquest.

Any band that’s big enough to headline Glastonbury but turns it down is a band that deserves our undying respect and admiration. Iron Maiden exist in a parallel media universe which they’ve conjured into existence through sheer force of will (and maybe some dusty, arcane powers) making them the undisputed overlords of all they survey.

Go see the beast on the road, and pay homage to the world’s greatest living rock legends.

My Top 10 Live Bands – 2

Marillion

This is one band I was lucky enough to first witness in their pomp, way back in the 80s while they were still fronted by the legendary Fish and Misplaced Childhood rode high in the album chart.

I already knew that they were all first class musicians, but I had no idea just how tight and polished a band could be on stage. Anyone who bought Misplaced Childhood on vinyl back in the day will know that it’s a full-blooded, unashamed prog rock creation consisting of only two tracks, side one and side two. As it was their latest release, I was understandably looking forward to hearing some album cuts performed live on stage. What I didn’t expect was to witness the whole damned thing! Every last note and nuance, performed live, in sequence, with no breaks and no mistakes.

It was then I realised I wasn’t just watching a kick-ass live band, I was in the presence of true musical greatness. Marillion’s huge but tightly controlled energy dovetailed perfectly with the word-perfect recitals of the audience to produce a potent and mesmerising musical mix.

I’d had my first hit of the Marillion magic, and I knew had to have more…and so I did. I saw them twice more before the world came to an end when Fish left the band. After losing one of the finest lyricists this country’s ever produced, the future looked bleak for the last and greatest performing proponents of prog rock’s hugely demanding yet dying art.

Like many other fans from the Fish era, I wondered if it was the end of the road for Marillion. Still, after four hugely respected, often cited and much loved albums, that ain’t half bad.

But then, something extraordinary happened. Some obscure, small guy from Kendal joined one of the tightest rock bands in history to retool, rebrand and relaunch.

Marillion quickly stepped out of the mainstream spotlight as new singer Steve Hogarth and the rest of the guys set about building a new kind of band, a band based more around audience access and crowd funding than courting the continued goodwill and patronage of the major labels. This was a bold and revolutionary move in the early 1990s, but one that’s proved crucial to Marillion’s continued success and close relationship with its fan base.

So, after watching from afar for more than a quarter of a century, I finally decided to take the plunge and see this “new” Marillion in late 2016.

To say I was blown away is something of an understatement. Time and age seem to have only improved Marillion’s live performances, as focused experience has gradually replaced youthful exuberance. With a hi-tech video system, custom made movies, and the most balanced and powerful live sound you’ll ever hear, Marillion introduced FEAR, their eighteenth studio album to a seemingly insatiable audience.

Marillion are one of the few bands who’ve manage to pull off that seemingly impossible trick of moving with the times while also standing still. As highlights from the ever lengthening Hogarth era where delivered at full power, I realised that the tracks I was hearing could’ve been penned at any time since the late 1980s to the present day.

As I’ve said before, a Marillion gig is a masterclass in layered power rather than raw volume, and its effects on the audience are profound and long lasting.

After a long dry spell, I’m hooked on the M-stuff once again. Wanna try some?

The Internet Acquittal of Tommy Robinson

So Tommy Robinson went and got himself arrested, again. That means it’s the end of civilisation as we know it, apparently.

It’s times like these when the wise words of Andrew Klavan often resonate the most. Klavan, among others, has often observed that conservatives generally, and the farther right in particular, have the often annoying and always counter-productive habit of declaring every development they dislike to be a reliable harbinger of impending societal collapse.

Gay marriage? It’s the end of civilisation. Female clergy? It’s the end of civilisation. The arrest of Tommy Robinson? It’s the end of civilisation. And so on, and so on, and so forth.

Certain nationalist and identitarian elements on the internet are bristling with righteous indignation and condemnation of the UK police state’s outrageous infringement of civil liberties, while typing furious petitions demanding Robinson’s immediate release from prison. Like that’s going to have any effect, other than helping GCHQ to hoover up a ton of data regarding the completely legal yet politically incorrect opinions of numerous British citizens.

Whether you believe that Robinson and his followers are “far right” or not, it says a great deal about the current state of our news media when we’re forced to turn to the Daily Mail and the ever reliable Guido Fawkes website for something approaching a balanced and dispassionate assessment of the situation.

Guido was one of the first online news sources to point out that only last year, Mr Robinson was handed a suspended sentence and expressly warned by a judge against live reporting from ongoing trials of predominantly Asian grooming gangs. Whilst the grooming gang phenomenon is a clear and present risk to young girls, women and our wider society, so too is tweeting the details of “Muslim paedophile” trials in blatant defiance of media restrictions before a jury has had an opportunity to reach a verdict. Thanks to Robinson’s reckless and self-aggrandising behaviour, he’s in jail while potentially vulnerable witnesses could be left dangerously exposed if a mistrial were declared. It’s difficult to see how any of those outcomes will help more victims escape from an ever lengthening list of organised offenders.

Whether you’re enraged or delighted by the arrest and imprisonment of Tommy Robinson, there’s no escaping the fact that despite being personally warned by a sitting judge, he went ahead and broke the law anyway. And he did it on purpose while he was under a suspended prison sentence.

Like most modern-day ideologues, it seems like the majority of Mr Robinson’s most ardent supporters want to have their cake and eat it too. They’re only too pleased to see a growing number of mostly Muslim defendants in the dock and claim, with some justification, that it’s long overdue. Yet they fly into a fit of self-righteous rage when one of their own is taken to task by the very same legal system which is finally catching up with their sworn cultural enemies.

Either we are a nation of laws or we are not. You can’t have it both ways.

Images courtesy of Jason Morrison & Doru Lupeanu at FreeImages.com

The 24hr Tragedy Cycle

Not before time, the public enquiry into the tragic events at Grenfell Tower has juddered into motion. Already we’ve heard several days of heartrending and tragic testimony from those who’ve lost loved ones in the most dreadful, almost unimaginable circumstances. These Commemoration hearings will perhaps bring some small crumb of comfort to those left behind to live with the crippling pain, anguish and guilt that always accompanies such a sudden and traumatic event.

But since when did a public enquiry become a fitting vehicle for these once very private and deeply personal parts of the grieving process?

Will these eulogies to the departed teach us anything about how this tragedy unfolded, or forewarn us against similar dangers in the future? Will they shed any light on decisions made long ago that formed the next link in this chain of catastrophe? I’d like to think so, but a tear-jerking tale of personal loss cannot advance our understanding of the events leading up to that terrible and unforgettable night.

This blurring of lines between the judicial and the personal is an unhealthy one, both for the victims of tragedy and for society at large. While friends, family and community might offer essential support to those directly affected by disaster, the public enquiry is designed to heal and salve the wider society. Its primary role is to establish exactly which variables contributed to the tragedy, and to honour the suffering of the departed by ensuring that we learn something valuable from their deeply unjust and untimely demise. We all feel a sense of loss and bewilderment after such a monumental event, and so we look to the instruments of State to provide answers and reassurance that never again will we tread that same path toward disaster.

It feels deeply ironic that our media driven and secular society is becoming ever more obsessed with personal grief, as we turn away from the eternal and spiritual to place our trust in the inconstant and temporal. Funerals, memorials and services can no longer satisfy our collective search for closure and meaning. These ancient rites of passage and grief are now recycled into documentaries and retrospectives, while yet more tributes to the lost are being shoehorned into a judicial process designed primarily to establish the facts.

As these personal tragedies are played out day by day on the public stage, I’m forced to wonder who benefits most from this protracted display of emotional outpouring. Time will tell, but I’m not convinced that these overly worthy displays of grief and loss will move us any closer to the answers we seek. Still, it makes a cracking good real-life melodrama that we can all involve ourselves in, whether we were there or not.

Who are we really thinking of when we turn on the TV to catch the next episode?

Images courtesy of Hazel Brown & Johanna Ljungblom at FreeImages.com

My Top 10 Live Bands – 3

VNV Nation

Once in every decade or so, a musical movement or maybe a movie franchise appears that just looks, sounds and feels like nothing else. Like a brand new branch springing from a mature tree, this unexpected creative offshoot bursts out of the existing cultural body in a completely unpredictable way, yet somehow manages to look like it was pre-destined to appear all along.

VNV Nation arrived in our psyche in just such an unexpected yet predictable fashion during the creative drought of the mid1990s; starting very small, but rapidly evolving into an entire musical sub-branch in their own right. This Anglo Irish duo somehow managed to blend an almost New Wave futuristic synth vibe with state of the art technology to produce a stunning series of auditory sculptures which are often imitated, but never bettered.

Working tirelessly both on the road and in the studio, VNV Nation have built up an impressive album catalogue as well as a hugely dedicated following, and all without the blessing or endorsement of the mainstream media machine.

Having been a fan of their music for quite a while, I was more than pleased to finally have the chance to witness a live performance.

They didn’t disappoint.

Although not the greatest of technical singers, Ronan Harris’ voice nonetheless oozes an authentic and heartfelt sincerity which perfectly matches the more spiritual aspects of VNV’s best work. Meanwhile, the physically imposing Mark Jackson stands like a stylised Soviet foundry worker as he hammers out the industrial foundations of a seemingly endless stream of underground anthems. With two guys working, and I mean working the desk all evening, the sound started at a high point and was absolutely flawless within a very short time. There are plenty of much bigger and much richer acts who could learn a lot from that level of dedication and professionalism.

Illusion, Homeward, Legion, Standing and the majestic, incomparable Beloved were just a few of an ever growing catalogue of firm audience favourites that kept us all jumping pretty much from start to finish. VNV delivered exactly what we all wanted, which was an orgy of hardcore electronic tracks which transcend mere dance music to become something much more akin to audial art.

They were flawless, and the reason for their fans’ dedication and almost obsessive loyalty was clearly expressed in the symbiosis between those on the stage and those on the ground. It was as though the very gods of synthpop themselves had descended to bring us the good news.

Preach it loud!

Like all truly great gigs, I just didn’t want it to end, but all good things must pass in time. However, that’s not before the guys delivered their trademark wind-down of Perpetual, which ekes out the last looping, chiming chords of the gig and leaves the audience both on a high and hungry for more.

VNV Nation have more than earned their success, and their live gigs are a testament to the old showbiz saying which reminds us that, no matter what, talent will out.

Decision Time for Theresa

Whatever you might think of her politics or personality, there’s no denying Theresa May’s tenacity and dogged determination. So far she’s confounded all the doomsayers who prophesised that the Brexit talks would never get this far. Predictions of Jeremy Corbyn celebrating Christmas in Number 10 have vanished from more than one blog, and gleeful tweets about the imminent local election meltdown have been recycled into memes of mirth all across cyberspace.

Despite being a little grating and not especially charismatic, the Prime Minister has nonetheless managed to retain, and in some cases gain, the loyalty of an electorate which has come to grudgingly admire her patient if bureaucratically dull approach to an increasingly ill-tempered, intransigent and deliberately discourteous European Union.

Contrary to what the more unhinged factions of the Remainosphere might say, the Brexiteer who thought this would all be a breeze is a rare and strange beast indeed. The British electorate backed Brexit in the full knowledge that there would be more than a couple of bumps in the road as we embarked on the biggest constitutional upheaval in a generation. How could there not be?

This typically pragmatic, balanced and, yes dammit, British attitude explains why both the voters in general and the Tory Party in particular have continued to support the PM through the increasingly difficult and tortuous Brexit process.

However, with her latest and, quite frankly, downright dishonest sounding customs union fudge, the PM has finally run out of creative ways to yield ever more ground to Brussels while kicking the can down the road at the same time. It’s been a really neat trick which has served her well so far; but beneath all the noise and shiny distractions swirling around the Brexit debate, the influential European Research Group has finally delivered its considered verdict.

“Completely cretinous.”

The back benches have lost patience with Britain’s seemingly endless procession of one-way concessions. Their letters to the 1922 Committee are poised and ready. They have the numbers, they’re no longer scared of Corbyn, and I believe they mean business this time.

Soon we will know for sure whether the PM has been doing her best in good faith, or whether her talk of “no attempt to remain inside the EU [and] no attempt to re-join it via the back door” was just another carefully measured dose of duplicity made in Brussels.

At the moment, Theresa May seems to be the only person in Europe who hasn’t learned that there can be no compromise with the EU. I don’t know why she finds this concept so difficult to grasp. God knows, they’ve told us often enough.

Images courtesy of Adrian Olguin & Anja Ranneberg at Freeimages.com

Hooray for the 2nd Referendum!

It’s nice to agree with your most implacable opponents every now and then. That’s why I was especially cheered to hear Patrick Stewart’s reasoned and measured arguments as he championed the new People’s Vote movement in various television studios nearly a fortnight ago. It’s hard to deny that we’d never make different, better decisions if we could see further into the future. After all, how many of us wouldn’t want to turn back the clock and not have a particular argument, or choose a different path that didn’t lead to a dead end?

When it comes to weighty matters of state, we all cast our votes based more on hope and belief than any meaningful knowledge of the future. That inescapable truth probably explains why we’re permanently disappointed that our destination bears only a passing semblance to the exciting postcard we received. So it’s with a big dose of hindsight and a little humility that I’ve come to embrace the idea of a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The landscape is so dramatically different and so many arguments resoundingly disproved that I can see no other alternative. We’re just not where we thought we would be.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet informed voters that a Council of Ministers would make Europe-wide decisions. However, that competency was transferred to the unelected European Commission in 2009. The UK electorate was not consulted about this change.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet assured voters that “no important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British minister answerable to a British Government and British Parliament.” However, both the Maastricht
and Lisbon Treaties handed many important policy powers to the same unelected European Commission. The UK electorate was not consulted about this change.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet declared that “through membership of the [Common] Market we are better able to advance and protect our national interests. This is the essence of sovereignty.” I can’t possibly speak for 17.4 million leave voters, but I’ll bet the farm that a significant majority of them believe that regaining control of UK border policy, money and laws is the true essence of sovereignty. It’s taken a little over forty years for that glib official statement to be tested in the real world and found so desperately wanting.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet stated that Commonwealth countries would not be disadvantaged by Britain’s membership of the EEC. Yet less than two pages later, the very same leaflet states a UK voting to leave the EEC would no longer be inside the Common Market tariff wall – but outside.” The pamphlet didn’t try to explain how splitting the Commonwealth between those behind and those outside the EEC’s tariff wall was beneficial to the countries left outside. The eagerness of those same nations to embrace new trading ties with the UK shows that statement to have been utterly false, and I suspect Edward Heath and a large portion of Parliament knew it back in 1973.

Whilst some of the Government’s claims regarding the Common Market may have been accurate in 1975, an awful lot has changed in forty years. New treaties, new power structures and new laws have transformed the EEC beyond all recognition, and in the light of those radically altered conditions, it was right and proper that at long last a second referendum on EU membership took place on June 23, 2016.

Some of the more embittered remain factions highlight the fact that older voters were the deciding demographic in the referendum result, as though that somehow counts for something. Despite ridiculous and condescending claims that older voters represent a non-existent past, they are in fact the very same people who’d voted to remain in the EEC in 1975. They’d just developed a better understanding of what they were really voting for this time around. Sound familiar?

Mr Stewart and his chums at People’s Vote HQ can celebrate the fact that we’ve already had a second EU referendum. When considering new developments and changed circumstances that were unknown in 1975, the electorate has soberly and very sensibly changed its mind.

The North London, 2nd referendum set can sleep soundly knowing that democracy was well served by the 2016 vote, and they can focus on really important things like writing letters to the Guardian.

The People’s Vote of 2016 was a triumph for democracy.

Image courtesy of nwhomebuyers at FreeImages.com

My Top 10 Live Bands – 4

Ultravox

If there’s a single band that encapsulates all that’s best about the music of the late 70s and early 80s, then that band must surely be Ultravox. With a dark, new wave undercurrent, superb arrangements and a willingness to step off the pop reservation, Ultravox effortlessly bridge the language gap between mainstream music and the alternative counter-culture.

There’s no doubt that they arrived on the scene with perfect timing, at the end of an era when unconventional and experimental tracks like Vienna and The Thin Wall still stood a chance of chart success. Seriously, does anyone believe singles like those would’ve gotten a look in five years later? I sincerely doubt it.

Like so many talented bands from that brief flowering of analogue alchemy, I wasn’t able to catch Ultravox in their Monument heyday, but I was thrilled to finally see Midge and the boys performing live at Sheffield’s O2 Academy during their highly regarded Return to Eden tour. This was doubly exciting for me as I’m already on record stating that Rage in Eden is my favourite album of all time.

I thought I’d died and gone to heaven as Midge Ure strode onto that stage in a silver-sheen suit and proceeded to blast out some serious hard-core guitar chords. Within half a minute those chords had morphed into the opening riffs of New Europeans, one of the great unsung new wave classics. Not only does it sound fantastic, but it perfectly packages the zeitgeist of that struggle between the printing press and the microchip, played out against a backdrop of grey concrete and glaring new neon.

The gig that followed this blinding opener was a nonstop parade of new wave classics, reminding us all just how imaginative and prolific they’d been during that short burst in the early 80s. Although some hair was thinning here and some waistlines thickening there, Midge and the boys more than proved that they could still throw down with the best as they displayed a level of musicianship which, let’s be honest, was all too rare among some of their more readily marketable contemporaries.

With an unassuming stage set combined with sound and lighting to die for, Ultravox re-established their credentials as some of the more serious musicians from a decade that started deep, but quickly shallowed into an identikit ensemble of sickly synthetic pop confections. It’s ironic how those dark, brooding foundations of the Ultravox sound were once a drag on commercial success, yet now they’ve become the very feature attracting a new generation of admirers in this new millennium.

Whilst they may not have been the vaunted megastars of yesteryear, there’s no denying that Ultravox have outpaced, outlasted and out-created nearly all of their contemporaries. There are no humiliating twenty minute slots on some washed-up-by-the-sea revival tour for Midge and the boys, and their enduring appeal is proof positive that substance always outlasts style in the long run. I’ll wager there’s many a big-name from yesteryear who secretly wishes they could still headline in their own right, instead of hitching their one-hit wagon to a burgeoning and cynical nostalgia machine. A lesson for us all methinks.

Though the years may have changed them physically, Ultravox’s commitment to their sound, their performance and their audience remains as bright and youthful as those heady days of top ten success and Smash Hits centrefold splashes. Though they may never again write or perform as a cohesive unit, it’s clear that those New Europeans have more than a couple of ideas inside them still.

Remoaners need Dr Who, not Captain Picard

So, it’s finally happened. The entrenched establishment’s last desperate gamble to thwart Brexit has cranked into life amid great fanfare, tons of publicity and a million pound budget.

Of course they don’t call it that. When questioned on their attitude to Brexit, this elitist coalition of closet authoritarians hide their disdain for democracy behind phrases like “choice”, “new information” and “the terms of divorce.” They are always, always at pains to stress just how much they respect the result of the 2016 referendum.

This is a brazen, calculated lie, and we all know it. In fact, arch luvvie and continuity remainer Patrick Stewart couldn’t even convince the BBC’s Andrew Marr of his sincerity when asked about respecting the Brexit vote. Either he wasn’t properly briefed by the “People’s Vote” campaign, or he’s decided that honesty is the best policy. Whether by accident or design, we should thank Mr Stewart for saving us all the time and trouble of trying to prize the truth from this dishonest and deceitful campaign’s lips for the next year or so.

One of the more reliable rules of politics is that any nation with the words “democratic” or “people’s” anywhere in its name should be treated with extreme caution, and the same can be said of political campaigns. Ironically enough the “people” understand this fundamental truth well enough, which is why this this last hurrah from the fading neoliberals will expend a lot of time, energy and hot air with no discernible outcome. Kind of like having a counsellor on a spaceship.

The People’s Vote is doomed.

First and foremost, because there will be no second referendum. Both Labour and the Conservatives have been clear about this. Any such proposal is extremely unlikely to make it through Parliament as both the voting public and the political class are well aware of Brussels’ long and lamentable record of re-runs when it comes to democratic votes they don’t like. Such a move would be politically impossible in the current atmosphere.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has already been triggered, and any move to reverse that decision will require a democratic mandate equal to or greater than the 2016 referendum. In the unlikely event a second referendum were to be held, it would not affect the result of the first unless that question was specifically addressed on the ballot paper.

This new and fundamentally flawed rearguard action is grounded on the false premise that any second referendum will be a direct re-run of the first, when the likelihood of such is vanishingly small. The best they can hope for is a take-it-or-leave-it vote on the final form of any future Brexit deal, but this will not affect the legal status of the Lisbon Treaty. In fact, such a plebiscite could quite conceivably lead to the “hard” Brexit they so desperately seek to overturn. The potential for backfire is a real and present danger, so hardcore remainers should be careful what they wish for.

Finally, there is also the inescapable and ironclad fact that Brexit is driven by the largest democratic mandate for anything, ever, in the long history of this nation. The ship has sailed, and there’s very little chance of stopping it now. The hard core rump of Brexit deniers would’ve done better to find a time traveller than to rely on Captain Yesterday.

Image courtesy Carol Kramberger at Freeimages.com

Our Futuristic Breadbin Brexit

What do Brexit, a loaf of bread and a high profile environmental campaign have in common? You might be tempted to answer “not very much,” but they are in fact linked by deeper, hidden forces which are currently the rise of populism and the rejection of the neoliberal world view.

It’s not often that everyday objects like a sliced white can speak so much truth, but that’s exactly what happened in the bread aisle as I endured the ritual torture of grocery shopping. I’d arrived at the supermarket earlier than planned, having fled the house after Sky News tried to force feed me another helping of environmental advocacy. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s true that the amount of plastic polluting our world is a real and pressing problem, and I for one am pleased that such a large organisation is bringing attention to this urgent and important issue.

There were films of plastic, debates about plastic and statistics surrounding plastic still rolling around in my head while I engaged in the drudgery of the supermarket shop. First stop was the fruit and veg, and I immediately recalled the apocryphal tale of four apples shrink-wrapped on a plastic tray, which is often cited as the pinnacle of ridiculous and completely unnecessary plastic packaging.* In fairness there are very few people who’d approve of such a thing in today’s more environmentally conscious climate, but still it happened once upon a time.

Then I came to the bread, and as I was loading my favourite brand into the trolley I suddenly remembered that bread was once packaged in nice neat waxed paper parcels, whereas now it’s nearly always wrapped some sort of plastic bag.

So who actually asked for such a change? I don’t recall the old way of wrapping bread being a particular problem, and I certainly can’t remember the consumer demanding his apples be packed in plastic trays. So how did we get to the place where we find ourselves now?

Like so much in modern life, to find the answer we must follow the money and the power to the point where somebody’s holding of either increases. It’s a fundamental truth that businesses must either cut costs or grow revenue to increase profits, and in the food sector that means processing. The more any given food is processed, the greater value is added to it, and that fundamental economic and marketing truth goes a long way to explaining our apocryphal apples wrapped in plastic. What else can you do with an apple and still preserve it as recognisable piece of fruit?

It’s only now, after decades of profligate plastic usage that we’re starting to understand just how big a problem we’ve created for ourselves. Naturally we’ve started seeking solutions, which ironically involve looking back to an era when paper was king and glass bottles were easily reused or recycled. Taking the longer view, it turns out that maybe we were once wiser than we knew, and many “old fashioned” ideas had a lot more to their credit than the loudest of lobbying voices cared to admit.

Just like our apples wrapped in plastic, the European Union has also quietly grown into an expensive and wasteful hazard, and its baleful influence had to reach choking point before most of us noticed its creeping incursion into all our lives. Outside of a few noisy special interest groups, hardly anyone in Europe ever wanted or asked for the gargantuan behemoth we’re battling now; and just like our irresponsible push to plasticise, we stand aghast at the damage we’ve unwittingly unleashed.

The good news is that just like the packaging industry, the future for nation states can be found in the past. That doesn’t mean slamming on the brakes and trying to throw history into reverse, but instead taking some fundamentally sound ideas from a time before the EU and reimagining them for the century to come. Just as some bright inventor will soon come up with bio-degradable waxed paper 2.0 and make a ton of money, so we’ll develop new ways of working together in an increasingly globalised, interconnected, yet de-centralised world.

Doubtless many aspiring authoritarians will argue that our increased interconnectedness demands an even greater degree of supranational governance and regulation. Well, that all sounds fine in the lobbies at Davos, but history is now revealing the folly of exchanging the reality of national sovereignty for the illusion of increased prosperity and security.

The European Union is the plastic apple tray of the political world. We don’t need it, we never asked for it, and all it does is serve the interests of a small group of men sitting on the top floors of tall buildings.

We’ve allowed one hell of a mess to build up over the years, and it’s going to take a long time and some innovative thinking to repair the damage.

Image courtesy of tinpalace at Freeimages.com

*Some commentators maintain that wrapping food like fruit prolongs shelf life and decreases food wastage, and thus the environmental impact is more nuanced.