My starter for ten:
In the 1975 European Referendum campaign I started out as a convinced anti. I had read the arguments by the Labour opponents and found them solid. I spoke from platforms on that basis. As the date of the poll, 5th June, came closer, so my convictions weakened to the point when — for the first and only time in my enfranchised adult life — I couldn’t bring myself even to visit the polling station. Since when I have accepted that — at least for those of us who live and work in the southern UK — the European link goes with the climate. London, after all, as close to Brussels as it is to this fine city of (old) York). And now less than a couple of hours journey from the Euston Road.
Yesterday, with morning coffee and sponge cake …
It was grey and wet, and I spent over an hour watching passing trade from the windows of Belfast’s Europa Hotel. In that time I dissected the Guardian, the Times and the Irish Times. Two opinion pieces stood out:
- Matt Ridley, in The Times, on Government is the acceptable face of violence;
- Dennis Kennedy, in the Irish Times, on Is debate on UK policy on Europe a dangerous bluff?
Both attempted to put their topic in an historical context — Ridley, who was essentially plucking books from his guilt-pile, opened with:
In almost every nation, if you go back far enough, government began as a group of thugs who, as Pope Gregory VII put it in 1081, “raised themselves up above their fellows by pride, plunder, treachery, murder — in short by every kind of crime”.
Was Canute, or William the Conqueror, or Oliver Cromwell really much different from the Islamic State? They got to the top by violence and then violently dealt with anybody who rebelled. The American writer Albert Jay Nock in 1939 observed: “The idea that the state originated to serve any kind of social purpose is completely unhistorical. It originated in conquest and confiscation — that is to say, in crime . . . No state known to history originated in any other manner, or for any other purpose.”
By the way, that quotation (which may be via R.W.Dyson) from Pope Gregory comes from a letter to Bishop Hermann of Metz, in March 1081, at the time when the Papacy was “having issues” over lay investiture with Heinrich IV — which may amount to control of the “single market” of its day.
Government as “violent gangs”?
Ridley’s sub-heading is pertinent:
The threat of force is implicit in law and order but a modern state should recoil at the armour on show in Missouri.
Where that leads to is the edge of terror:
The Republican senator Rand Paul commented in Time magazine that the federal government had incentivised the militarisation of local police, funding municipal governments to “build what are essentially small armies”. Evan Bernick, of the Heritage Foundation, warned last year that “the Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armoured vehicles, guns, armour, aircraft”. The Pentagon actually donates military equipment to the police, including tanks.
We have not yet gone so far in this country. Ofsted and the Met Office — as far as I know — do not yet arm their inspectors and forecasters. But the days when the state’s monopoly on violence was merely hinted at by a policeman’s uniform are long gone. You see police with sub-machineguns everywhere, and the Met is about to purchase water cannon to keep us in order. I hope that in combating violent gangs, our governments do not themselves turn back into violent gangs.
“A swift and minor change”
Ah, yes! Boris Johnson’s illegal (because Theresa May — bless her cotton socks and leopard kitten-heels — has made clear their use is not “authorised”) water-cannon. Appropriate that Ridley drops that into a Monday when Boris Johnson was arguing for English law to adopt presumption of guilt:
At present the police are finding it very difficult to stop people from simply flying out via Germany, crossing the border, doing their ghastly jihadi tourism, and coming back. The police can and do interview the returnees, but it is hard to press charges without evidence. The law needs a swift and minor change so that there is a “rebuttable presumption” that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose.
A different perspective
Yet it is Kennedy’s account of things European that grabbed me.
His thesis depends from the 1957 Treaty of Rome, in which the original six nations:
Determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe
He emphasises that was explicitly accepted by Britain:
not just since 1973, but effectively since Macmillan’s Conservative government first applied for membership in 1961.
Some argue the “ever closer union” was merely a vague aspiration, committing the member states to nothing more than increased co-operation. But there was little vague about the objectives set at the Paris summit of October 1972 by the six founding members and the three new members – the UK, Ireland and Denmark.
All nine endorsed a transition from a common market to full economic and monetary union by the end of 1980, including, possibly, a single currency. The heads of government also committed to transforming, before the end of 1980, “the whole complex of the relations of member states into a European Union”.
Even the Iron Lady, despite her later apostasy, accepted the notion:
Global economic crises and differences among the member states meant the 1980 deadline was missed, but it was replaced in the mid-1980s by the 1992 deadline for the completion of the single (or internal) market, based on a detailed schedule of European legislation to guarantee free movement of goods, services, capital and people within the EU – a project warmly endorsed by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher. [My emphasis]
“It’s for real.”
Allow me to go beyond Kennedy’s account, to recall just how Thatcher — as late as 1988 — gushed with enthusiasm for the Single Market:
We must get this right. Too often in the past Britain has missed opportunities.
How we meet the challenge of the Single Market will be a major factor, possibly the major factor, in our competitive position in European and world markets into the twenty-first century. Getting it right needs a partnership between government and business.
The task of government is two-fold: — to negotiate in Brussels so as to get the possible results for Britain; —and then to make you, the business community, aware of the opportunities, so that you can make the most of them.
It’s your job, the job of business, to gear yourselves up to take the opportunities which a single market of nearly 320 million people will offer.
Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers—visible or invisible—giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people.
Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it.
It’s not a dream. It’s not a vision. It’s not some bureaucrat’s plan. It’s for real. And it’s only five years away.
Quite what she meant by Action to get rid of the barriers if not a pragmatic ever closer union defeats me.
Yet this is what the contemporary, revanchist Tories want to reverse. And, now, Cameron — who has been playing footsie for so long — finally concedes to his frothing Eurosceptics:
I do not oppose further integration within the eurozone: I think it is inevitable. Eurozone members must make those decisions. But I know the British people want no part of it, want to avoid deeper integration, and want our country properly protected from the impacts on the single market of any further integration that the eurozone undertakes.
This is not the speech of a “thinker”: it is subjective (note the proliferation of first-person singulars here, as in all Cameron speeches) and visceral. But it is not visceral conviction: it is the gut-wrenching fear of being outflanked by the UKIPpers and eurosceptics of his own party. And, as Kennedy suggests, it is dangerous nonsense:
… is the UK debate … a domestic squabble fuelled by fear of Ukip and the reluctance of the major parties to challenge Euroscepticism? Is it a dangerous bluff to frighten EU partners into concessions? If so, it could be a serious miscalculation.
This could be Cameron’s political epitaph.
- After five years of spatchcocked coalition,
- with austerity,
- over the Scottish referendum,
- with growing social division exacerbated by gross mishandling of welfare,
- over indecisive foreign policy,
- with repressive tendencies and cleavages growing in his own party, and now
- with Europe —
“The great miscalculator”.