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Right but Repulsive

The trashing of Britain’s euroskeptics

Oct 31, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 07 • By ANDREW STUTTAFORD
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A doctor ignored by a smoker won’t celebrate if lung cancer strikes. Britain’s euroskeptics are generally too worried about the consequences of the Eurozone’s thoroughly predictable crisis to submit to the temptations of I told you so. Well, most of them are. The United Kingdom may be outside the Eurozone, but some British Banquos have managed to crash its beggar’s banquet nonetheless. One, Foreign Secretary William Hague, has compared the currency union to “a burning building with no exits.” He can be forgiven his bluntness. As Tory leader, he had said the same and much more besides when that ill-fated building was still under construction. The reward for his prescience was to have his words used against him as part of a vicious and deceptive campaign that failed in its specific objective, yet succeeded in a wider task: contributing to a political and cultural climate that doomed Hague to vilification and defeat in the 2001 general election, and Britain to years more of Tony Blair. 

Photo of British Parliament

That campaign—to persuade Britons to adopt the euro—has now been retrieved from the memory hole and made the subject of Guilty Men (Centre for Policy Studies), a brutal, brilliant new pamphlet by Frances Weaver, a freelance writer and researcher, and Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator. The title is provocation and insult. Published in 1940, the original Guilty Men was a savage, if not always accurate, attack on British politicians of the appeasement era. To revive its name was to hurl down a gauntlet.

Guilty Men should be seen as the third in an Oborne trilogy that began with The Rise of Political Lying (2005). That volume and The Triumph of the Political Class (2007) are two of the finest books on British politics in recent years. Their titles speak for themselves, and their message ought to resonate far beyond Britain. The same is true of Guilty Men. Within its covers you will find the description of an elite unimpressed by its homeland, enthralled by transnationalism, seduced by the main chance, and buttressed by a mistaken conventional wisdom that it chose to defend by any means possible. None of this, of course, could ever happen here.

Like all the best thrillers, Guilty Men begins with a dastardly foreign plot. In its introduction, Peter Jay, a distinguished journalist and a former British ambassador to the United States, describes a lunch in Paris he attended as a 15-year-old in 1952. The guest of honor was the French diplomat Jean Monnet, the man who launched what eventually became the European Union. Dismayed by the spectacle of a France now eclipsed by the United States and Soviet Union, Monnet apparently explained that the only way that la gloire could return to France was within a Greater Europe. But this would have to be a superpower created gradually and by indirection, “by zig and by zag,” until, as Jay puts it, “the walls of old-fashioned national sentiment collapsed in favor of a new focus of national unity, Europe itself.” 

In the nearly 60 years that have followed, there has been plenty of zig, and plenty of zag, and rather too much European Union, but the United States of Europe has yet to emerge. And as for “the dimension of empire” that EU Commission president José Manuel Barroso claimed to detect within Brussels’s realm back in 2007, well. . . . 

Critically, there is, to borrow the unkind observation of Václav Klaus, the Czech Republic’s splendidly Thatcherite president, “no European demos—and no European nation.” There are, of course, the institutions—the parliament, the Commission, and so on—and the pretensions and the massive regulatory overreach. There’s a pretty flag and, via Beethoven and Rhodesia, a nice enough anthem, but that’s about it. To the extent that there is any European patriotism beyond the expensively furnished lairs of the upscale and, let’s concede the point, some genuine enthusiasm for Europe’s Ryder Cup golf team, it finds its most powerful expression in, significantly, something negative—distaste for the United States. These are too-flimsy foundations on which to build a challenge to the world’s colossi.

Thus it was not some atavistic dream of empire that persuaded so many of Britain’s best and brightest to rally behind the campaign to sign their country up for a shoddily constructed currency that was, whatever Paul Volcker (oh yes) might have said, clearly ill-suited to the U.K. economy. For some, career was the motive, and not only in an obvious way. Brussels can pay well, directly and indirectly, but, more than that, opposition to the euro had been cleverly smeared as a badge of the bizarre, an ornament to no résumé worth having.

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