Wikipedia suggests that the popular playground game, British Bulldog 1,2,3! originates in the United Kingdom. In reality variations of this popular game exist all over the world but with different names. In Belgium, by way of example, the exact same game is called “Dikke Bertha” named after the socking great big howitzer the German army used to destroy Belgium’s fortresses during World War One. In Britain it is named after a dog we believe embodies our determination, our spirit, our strength and our sense of fair play. The fact that the bulldog is ugly is neither here nor there. Looks are of no consequence. It is what lies underneath that is all important.
Alongside British Bulldog 1,2,3! the British pride themselves on being the home of football, rugby, lawn tennis, golf, boxing, cricket and down hill skiing to name but a few popular sports that began in the imagination of British sportsmen and women and went global. Boris Johnson reminded the Chinese that Ping-Pong (sometimes known as whiff-whaff) was invented on the dining room tables of Britain’s stately homes. In reality it is unlikely that the British were the first to blow up a pig’s bladder and kick it around a village common for a bit of fun. Nor is it likely that the British were the first to sock a punch in a pub brawl, bat a leather ball with a wooden stick, or try to stand on two wooden planks with only a couple of bamboo sticks for support in order to go helter-skelter down an Alpine slope. Plenty of other countries across Europe and further afield were enjoying similar past-times and brutalities for centuries.
What Britain can justifiable lay claim to and be proud of is turning these idle pass-times into well regulated, competitive sports as opposed to a total free-for-all where the fight (rather than the competition) is bloody, brutal and short. Thus it was British clubs and societies that invented the first independent football clubs and associations, which paved the way for the modern rules on football (as opposed to rugby). The founding of sporting clubs established the rules of rugby union and rugby league (as opposed to football) which developed into a sport that is hugely popular in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Argentina, Australia. It was a British Major who codified the rules of lawn tennis whilst a chap from Northern Ireland wrote down the rules for boxing which were endorsed by the Marquess of Queensbury leading to the modern form of competitive boxing. It was the establishment of the Kandahar Club in Murren, Switzerland in 1924 which transformed hitherto functional, lengthened wooden shoes used by locals as a handy means to get out and about into a downhill sport. So successful was the establishment of such groupings all sorts of gamers and sportsmen began to form clubs and associations – from darts to tiddlie-winks. Those that did not stayed small, parochial and largely unknown; beloved locally, irrelevant nationally and unknown internationally.
Which is why setting up clubs and associations, setting out a few ground rules and fielding a referee or umpire are all part and parcel of what it means to be successful and British. “May the best man win!” is quintessentially British. Fair sport is deeply engrained in our DNA. Just as it is considered outrageous to jump the queue so too it is considered appalling to punch below the belt or a kick a man when he is down in the dust. Cheating, lying or tripping a person up for the sheer fun of it is not part of the British mind-set. The true British bulldog values fair play, a level playing field and membership rules that apply equally to all and sundry regardless of birth, colour or creed. Tilting the playing field in one’s favour, lying to gain advantage or currying favour with the referee is considered “bad sport” –which is not just frowned upon but despised.
The EU is not unlike all the admirable clubs the British were responsible for setting up over a hundred years ago. The EU has founding members, club rules, membership fees and an umpire to call foul when one player is cheating or breaking the rules of the game. In the spirit of fairness every member of the club is given a voice and a say on how to establish these rules and reform them if and when necessary. Like these enduring sporting clubs the EU has helped all members, including Britian, compete, prosper and go global.
That all said Britain’s incumbent “British bulldog” Boris Johnson is quite the opposite to all of these values that we, the British, cherish. He is known for fabricating the truth, he has cheated on both of his wives and he is a fair-weather friend who is on record discussing with an old school friend the best way to rough up a journalist without actually getting caught in the act. It is not unreasonable to suggest that Boris Johnson is less a British bulldog than an indulged pampered poodle.
Mr Johnson has his admirers in the UK who seem to be blinded by a rakish smile and a quick shrug of the shoulders when he’s caught with his pants down. Voters trust him more on Europe then any other British politician despite the fact that he played fast and loose with the facts when he was a reporter for The Telegraph in Brussels and was sacked from The Times for fabricating the truth in pursuit of entertainment. His charm, joviality and good humour are endearing but his supporters are not really following the British code of honour which requires one to ignore the outer shell and figuring out what lies underneath.
More worryingly (as far as Britain’s best interests are concerned) existing club members across the EU are less than impressed with his attempts to sully their reputation. A lot less impressed. A timbered voice and self-deprecating smile currys no favour with them. They are not inclined to indulge those who mock and ridicule their objectives. Nor are they inclined to reward the man who lowered the club’s reputation in bad faith and for no reason other than to push a personal agenda and personal ambitions.
All of this is worrying since Mr Johnson could be leading the team which will have to negotiate a new deal for Britain in Europe if he wins on 23 June 2014 with very few trumps in his hands. He could be responsible for turning Great Britian from a bulldog which embodies our determination, our spirit, our strength and our sense of fair play into an enfeebled Chinese Crested Hairless Dog with no teeth or clout.
Outside of the club Britain could revert into an eccentric, forgotten country – like all those eccentric but irrelevant village sports that no one has ever heard of.
Which is why, if you value the British bulldog spirit of fair-play, a level playing field, ground rules that apply to all and not just a privileged few then you should vote to Remain in the EU on 23 June 2016.