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Australia Diary Australia

Diary

7 April 2012

3:00 PM

7 April 2012

3:00 PM

I had Canada all wrong. So, I suspect, did one or two Canadians. I grew up thinking of the frozen Dominion as a touchy-feely version of the US, obsessed with multiculturalism. ‘We’re English-speaking Scandinavians,’ Conrad Black used to lament. But Canada’s Conservatives, back in office with a proper majority after 20 years, point out that before Pierre Trudeau, their countrymen thought of themselves as hardier than Americans. Canada’s immigration policy was based on having more attractive tax rates than the US. Canada stood aside from FDR’s spending splurge, as it has from Obama’s, with the result that its federal and provincial governments take a lower combined share of GDP than south of the border. Stephen Harper’s victory last year was a revolution in the true sense: a turning of the wheel, a righting of that which had been set on its head. We Britons always suspected that there was something bogus about the goody-goody, officious Canada that Mark Steyn calls ‘Trudeaupia’. We remember the Canadians as brave and bloody allies. Eisenhower used to remark (in private, obviously) that, man for man, they were the toughest soldiers under his command. We should be delighted to find them back to their old selves.

•••

I am in Ottawa to plug the Anglosphere, the community of English-speaking democracies bound together by shared beliefs. I am struck by how easily Canadians with non-British backgrounds buy into Anglosphere values: property rights, common law, personal liberty, free trade, limited government, parliamentary supremacy. Canadian Tories attract ethnic-minority support at levels beyond the dreams of British Tories. To emphasise the non-racial nature of the Anglosphere, I begin in French, and get a warmer round of applause from French Canadians than I’d ever get in France. When Britain joined the EEC in 1973, I tell the audience, we fretted that we might hurt the Commonwealth. In the event, the dominions flourished. It was Britain that suffered, wrenched from its hinterland. In the year we joined, western Europe accounted for 38 per cent of world GDP. Today it’s 24 per cent, and in 2020 it will be 15 per cent. Far from joining a prosperous market, we shackled ourselves to a corpse.

•••


Back in Brussels, I find MEPs scrabbling for a way to deprive the BNP and other anti-immigrant parties of their share of EU funding. Unable to block the grant on legal grounds, they propose to do so by a vote in the chamber. There is a lesson here for those who want state funding in the UK. Once the government is in charge, the system is nationalised. A party can be barred by a majority vote among its rivals, who then snare its portion of the money. Shouldn’t it be up to voters to disqualify obnoxious parties on polling day? Are we incapable of exercising our judgment? What fools our fathers were if this be true.

•••

On 1 April, the European Citizens’ Initiative was introduced. A million signatures can now trigger a legislative proposal in Brussels — though there is no obligation on the EU authorities to proceed with it. The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, hopes people will use the mechanism to call for more EU taxes. I have the opposite ambition, and spent a day last week hosting a meeting for taxpayer associations from across Europe, who are furious at the way in which every penny saved by domestic austerity is swallowed by rises in the EU budget. They want a European Citizens’ Initiative obliging Brussels to make the same budgetary cuts as the average of the 27 member states.

•••

I really must stop using ‘Brussels’ as a shorthand for the EU. The people of that comfortable city never asked to have the Tower of Babel erected among them. Many resent it. ‘These bloody demos, guv’nor,’ says my taxi-driver as we reach a road closure (I translate loosely). ‘If it ain’t the farmers it’s the fishermen or the, you know, Kurds or someone. Why can’t they stay in their own sodding countries?’

•••

On Sunday, we hosted a concert for our six-year-old’s Suzuki violin class. Between two sets of children’s recitals, the French violin teacher, her Dutch husband and their teenage son took out their fiddles and jammed with the accompanist. For nearly an hour, as we washed the teacups, my wife and I were treated to a private concert, with lots of Brahms and a bit of Grieg and something else I didn’t recognise. Music speaks across time and nationality as politics can’t, lifting us to a nobler place. If only Europe had been designed by Robert Schumann instead of Robert Schuman.

Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP.

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