Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

I don't remember the last European referendum being nearly as dramatic as the current one. In 1975, we were being asked about our membership of the Common Market, not the -European Union, so there was less at stake -- at any rate, that's what the inners -wanted us to believe. The battle was also much more one-sided. Then as now, the pro-European side included the Prime Minister and the leaders of the other two main parties, but there were fewer cabinet ministers on the other side and it was easier to -caricature the antis (Tony Benn, Enoch Powell) as extremists. In 1975, the national press was overwhelmingly in favour of staying in and the 'yes' campaign was able to outspend the 'no' campaign several times over, neither of which are true today. The result, in which 67 per cent voted to stay in, was a foregone conclusion.

Then again, I was only 11 at the time. Like most of my -contemporaries, I felt closer to the continent across the Atlantic than the one across the Channel. For me, this was the era of Lost in Space and The Six Million Dollar Man . Trends in popular culture seemed to blow across from America with the Gulf Stream and found eager followers among my friends and me.

The big new thing in the -summer of 1975 was skateboarding and I remember pulling apart one of my sister's roller skates and nailing each half to a piece of wood. The first time I took this contraption out for a test drive I didn't wear any shoes and when it fell apart, as it inevitably did, I almost severed my little toe.

America felt accessible and exciting, the sort of place I could imagine living when I was older, whereas Europe was strange and foreign. It felt further away, somehow, which was odd because my parents had a summer house in the south of France. Perhaps it was because we always drove there -- a two-day journey in our Morris Marina, described by Top Gear as one of the worst cars of all time. Being cooped up in the back for the best part of 48 hours, with nothing to stave off the boredom, left me with a lifelong horror of long car journeys.

The French were -considerably more hostile to British visitors then than they are now. Our house was in a small village at the foot of the Luberon called Auribeau and we were the only English residents. There was a French boy called Frédéric of about my age who lived opposite, but we weren't friends. …

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