Happy families is not just a game, it's also hard work

The euro is a necessity, and not only for economic reasons
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The Independent Online

Returning to chilly Britain from Italy last week was a depressing experience. Not simply a matter of temperature, but the sinking feeling that back in Blighty we are still grappling with an agenda of fear. Fear of the euro, fear of giving pensioners a decent sum of money to live on, and so on.

Returning to chilly Britain from Italy last week was a depressing experience. Not simply a matter of temperature, but the sinking feeling that back in Blighty we are still grappling with an agenda of fear. Fear of the euro, fear of giving pensioners a decent sum of money to live on, and so on.

The sight of David Owen parading his anti-euro stance in a bout of shameless headline-grabbing was almost as depressing as reading the cast list at the cocktail party to launch Michael Heseltine's memoirs.

I won't even bother to dwell on the spectacle of Dome doom. It reminded me of the weekly Programme Review Meetings all senior BBC executives have to attend. Each day's output of the previous week was solemnly discussed and criticised. When a real stinker of a programme popped up, there was never any part of the programme-making team on hand to offer any explanation or show any contrition.

So it is with the Dome. Somehow, miraculously, all those millions got used up without any one person accepting responsibility. It is no surprise that BBC veterans Michael Grade and Alan Yentob featured somewhere in the mix.

To return to the orchestrated campaign against the euro, it seems to play to our deep-seated reluctance to embrace more important things about Europe. Our ambivalence about the EU could be construed as prudent. But it also symbolises the yawning gulf between Britain and our fellow members France, Spain and Italy when it comes to matters like the family.

A friend has just spent a couple of weeks in Spain with his family and friends. Staying in a popular resort, they developed a game called "spot the Brit". Woman hits child in street for misbehaving: one of us. Large groups of loud-mouthed singles the worse for wear in a bar: Brits. Families squabbling on the beach: Brits.

In Italy every meal in a public place reinforces just how radically different we are to our continental neighbours.Children are part of the extended family, where they are not spoilt and then punished and slapped, but included and expected to conform to certain rules of behaviour. Granny sat at the end of a long table in a pizza restaurant, took out her false teeth after eating her lunch and stowed them in her handbag. A baby in a pushchair sat next to a teenager.

I do not want to paint a rosy picture of middle-class bliss, but I can imagine that from his holiday in Italy and France the Prime Minister will have brought back many similar experiences (albeit not in pizza parlours) and will feel a sense of despair about the problems the family faces in Britain.

Each night in the hotel I stayed in, a touching scene was played out. The family in the next room would prepare for dinner: dad, about 35, mum about 30, and son, about eight. The son would emerge on to the hotel terrace where dad was waiting and the two of them would sit down with drinks, a coke and a glass of beer, and have a conversation about the day.

The father gave that boy his undivided attention and the bond between them was obvious. Family life has to be worked at, and as a nation we seem to have given up.

I do feel that my generation, born directly after the war, must carry a lot of the blame. We left home as soon as we could, regarded relatives as people you were inflicted with, and the gap between us and our parents seemed a yawning chasm. Of course these are all sweeping generalisations. But the rise of the me-culture did not help fragile family ties. Friends replaced family as the pivotal relationships in our lives.

To me, the closer our links with Europe the better. We have a lot of work to do in recivilising whole sections of our society, and that can only be accomplished via strong family bonds. I'm sure Mr Blair will have returned home realising that the euro is a necessity, but not for economic reasons.

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