Must be well over twenty years ago now, might be twenty-five. I was sitting in a meeting (well actually I was probably chairing it, which is how I stayed awake) when one committee member suggested we have a trip to Strasbourg to the European Parliament.
There wasn’t a lot of interest until he explained it would be expenses paid. At this point we all perked up. He was a member of one of our three main political parties, and explained that the EU had a fund which paid out for EU citizens to visit the EU parliament. He pointed out that in our constituency (as in all the others he knew about) the three parties tended to ensure that they send a fair number of their members on this jamboree every year. He’d been twice.
So he contacted the appropriate EU office, sorted the paperwork and a bus load of us, members of a farmers’ training group with no political affiliation whatsoever, went on a jaunt. Actually I didn’t go, my lady wife gets horribly travel sick on buses and somebody had to stay at home to milk, so I sent my parents instead. Luxury coach from South Cumbria to Strasbourg and back, three nights in decent hotels, and when they arrived at the Parliament building they got their expenses paid to them in cash. It was a fixed rate and I think that by the time they got home, their trip had cost them about a tenner apiece; the EU had picked up the rest of the bill.
Now it seems other member states used this scheme a lot. Many used the EU money to ensure that every school child got to visit the European Parliament and have everything explained to them. They felt it helped make them feel part of the European Community. In this country it seemed to be largely hogged as a perk for party members.
Now I don’t know whether the EU still funds this stuff, but it did strike me that if our MPs want to think of reasons why the people of much of England and Wales felt that they got nothing out of the EU, that it was remote and meant nothing to them, then a fair proportion of the blame for that falls at their own door.