When the aging opera singer Viola Williams taught her grand-daughters to sing in the late 1960s, little did she realize that Debbie, Joni, Kathy and Kim Sledge would go on to define the concept of strength in numbers… through disco.
Just a few years later, as Sister Sledge they stormed the charts worldwide with the floor-filling global smash hit ‘We are Family’ – and the song has been habitually trotted out as a soundtrack for togetherness ever since.
That theme of togetherness has never had a higher profile than when Prime Minister David Cameron returned from days of negotiations with his European Union counterparts to face the Downing St media hounds on Feb 20th and said: “This is a time to stick together: a time for strength in numbers.”
Looking a little ‘hang-dog’ himself after 3 hours’ sleep in as many days, Cameron had just fired the starting pistol in a referendum race that will surely define his career, Britain’s economic future and the European Union. Yet, for some in his party, his renegotiated terms of engagement with Brussels simply didn’t go far enough and were, perhaps, never likely to.
But, before throwing your lot in with Boris and his Brexit bandwagon, it’s worth reconsidering the rationale and origins of the European project, if only to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath-water – which is a very real danger given the surge of muddied political waters flowing around the issue.
The EU is probably the finest example of how a crowd can operate in successful self-interest yet also risk disastrous self-destruction by losing sight of its sense of purpose.
Forged in the fires of a war-ravaged Europe, the EU was originally conceived as a tie to bind us together and forever-more prevent us from going to war with each other. Yet, sadly, bureaucracy and unaccountability have conspired to blur that founding vision.
That original mission brief has almost been lost at the back of a drawer marked ‘Open in Case of Emergency’. But it’s still there and the simplicity of its cause is arguably more relevant now than ever before.
The Sledge sisters understood the importance of that simplicity when they sang:
“Cos here’s what we call our golden rule
Have faith in you and the things you do;
You won’t go wrong; This is our family jewel.”
Perhaps the pursuit of peace, strength and safety in numbers should be the jewel in all our crowns. And perhaps Viola Williams had unwittingly imbued her grand-daughters with far more than the ability to sing.
Boris Johnson would do well to match that as a legacy.