The belated pensioning-off of my VCR a couple of years ago was followed by the eventual clear-out of hundreds of VHS tapes, the earliest of which stretched back to the beginning of the 1990s. Whilst this has been beneficial in terms of space, I often notice the absence of what was effectively a comprehensive visual library when I feel the need to check a fact I can’t verify anywhere else. Without a machine to play them on, there was little point retaining these tapes – many of which contained numerous documentaries and factual series that will never see the light of day as commercial releases – so I often scour YouTube to see if any have surfaced courtesy of those who had the equipment to upload obscurities they’d also recorded off-air. Sometimes I find them; other times, I don’t. One such programme I’ve never found again was a documentary transmitted on Channel 4 in 2001, looking back on the day Britain went Decimal.
In it, there was an archive interview with a shopkeeper who refused to go with the flow and accept the currency change. Now unable to re-watch this programme, I can’t name him or the location of his shop and therefore have to rely on memory, though the nature of his protest is easy enough to recall. Footage of him standing his increasingly shrinking ground two years after decimalisation displayed his doomed defiance as he continued to insist his premises wouldn’t accept ‘new money’. By 1973, most of his loyal customers had probably exhausted their un-renewable supplies of defunct coinage and one would imagine his obstinacy cost him his business in the end. But for people of his generation, the loss of traditional £sd, a mere year before Ted Heath signed the country into the Common Market, was symbolic of something greater.
Often, the powerless seize upon something of apparent triviality when they feel the bigger picture is beyond their grasp. We’ve seen it with the so-called ‘metric martyrs’ in more recent years as, for some, the European Union has acquired the autocratic qualities once reserved for longer-established institutions that have wielded widespread influence and power over millions for centuries, such as the church, absolute monarchies or totalitarian regimes. Unable to attack these behemoths with bazookas, the incensed tend to resort to slingshots. Although decimalisation was planned and prepared long before the EEC finally accepted British membership – and the former certainly had a far more immediate impact on ordinary people’s lives – the two were linked in the minds of older generations for whom basic (and seemingly unnecessary) inconvenience was coupled with the loss of omnipotent signposts that had helped define in their minds what it meant to be British.
Naturally, what it means to be British can vary between different demographics. To those largely on the left for whom being British is a rather distasteful notion, Brexit represented their ultimate nightmare come true. As we all know, many of them – unlike the anti-decimal 70s shopkeeper – just happened to be in positions of power and spent the best part of three years abusing that power to try and overturn a democratic mandate. However, if the result of December’s General Election achieved anything of lasting significance, it could well be that it has ironically reduced the over-powerful Remain lobby to the same level as that poor deluded shopkeeper whose own protest was coming from a different place altogether. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that the delicious desperation of the arrogant entitled clique whose perception of its own importance was made possible by a neutered minority administration now finds the ultimate manifestation of its inability to accept the inevitable comes via a coin.
The so-called Brexit 50 pence piece has already had a somewhat troubled history; first optimistically announced to commemorate the original departure date of 31 October last year, the predictable delay forced a swift change of plan. Apparently, 10 million were intended to be minted; whether or not any sneaked out will probably keep collectors of rare coins busy for decades, but the ‘recycled’ version was confidently unveiled shortly after the Conservative victory on 12 December and will enter circulation at the end of this month when overdue departure is finally confirmed. And so, denied the illusion of clout they achieved during the high summer of their opposition to the majority, Remoaners have now fixated on the humble 50p as representative of everything they hate about Britain.
The 50p has become something of a sandwich board for historic anniversaries or celebrations of Great British icons in recent years – everything from public libraries and Paddington Bear to Beatrix Potter and the Battles of Britain and Hastings have been featured on the coin; and it’s interesting that the first such variation on the standard Britannia design to appear came with the memorable Common Market ‘joined hands’ version issued in 1973. The Brexit 50p could be viewed as an inversion of that particular coin’s fraternal message, yet its inscription of ‘Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations’ essentially conveys the same spirit of international brotherhood as the visual equivalent from 1973 – with or without an ‘Oxford comma’.
The accusation of a grammatical error was made by author (and noted Remainer) Philip Pullman, though one suspects his objection runs deeper. The reaction to the coin amongst the pettiest bad losers within the Remoaner camp is undoubtedly entertaining and has made them look more like Little Englanders in their attitude than those they routinely label as such. Pullman claims he will ‘boycott’ the coin, though does this mean he will vigorously examine his change when being served in a busy shop and then demand a replacement for a Brexit 50p as though it’s one of those ‘funny foreign coins’? The ever-laughable Alistair Campbell echoed Pullman’s sentiments, and it is truly something to see a man who once pulled so many powerful strings with such pig-headed arrogance now taking out his frustrations on a little bit of copper-nickel. Sometimes, the falling of the mighty is worthy of celebration. Maybe a commemorative coin could be minted to mark the occasion?
But perhaps the most extreme example of Remoaner excesses at their OTT worst came from some wag on Twitter yesterday, one who had the insensitive gall to deface the image of the coin with a swastika – on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. His point was that the Brexit 50p and the occasion it commemorated were somehow on a par with the rise of the Nazis and all that led to. Yes, that’s how corrosive the effects of being denied getting their own way has become for some. In many respects, such a response to something as inconsequential as a commemorative coin chimes with the ongoing narrative re the desperate search for something to vindicate victimhood, a trait generally reserved for the privileged and the bourgeois. And the loudest voices on the Remain side of this debate have invariably hailed from that camp. Oh, well. Maybe when we ‘crash out’ and the economic apocalypse leaves them begging for spare change in shop doorways, take pity and slip them a coin. 50p should suffice.
© The Editor