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The dangerous illusion of European identity

Also in Spectator Letters: detectives, presidents, Oldham, the Swiss, uniforms, Ascot and coffee

25 June 2016

8:00 AM

25 June 2016

8:00 AM

European identity

Sir: Alexander Chancellor (Long life, 18 June) echoes the widely accepted view of the European Union as a ‘bulwark against the nationalism that is rising again’. The European project was, of course, conceived as a means of averting the catastrophes that nationalism wreaked upon Europe during the 20th century.

However, in practice the EU has stoked nationalism within its constituent member states. As a top-down, elite-driven process, EU integration has crucially failed to mobilise the masses in favour of a common European identity that transcends national allegiances. Combine this with a simultaneous erosion of state sovereignty and the EU’s democratic deficit, and it is not difficult to understand why nationalist sentiment has again resurfaced.

The rise of Greece’s far-right, hard Eurosceptic Golden Dawn has been catalysed by the punishing measures imposed upon Greece by eurozone officials. Even in Britain, political resistance to European integration has proven instrumental in generating the ideological foundations for contemporary English nationalism. Perhaps this should be borne in mind as the EU continues its relentless drive towards ‘ever-closer union’.
Camille Mulcaire
Perivale, Middlesex

If you leave, we leave

Sir: I recently conducted a straw poll of friends who, like me, voted No to Scottish independence in 2014. All were educated and intelligent people. None were nature’s Scottish nationalists. All but one would change their vote to Yes in the event of Brexit — as would I (and rest assured, things have come to a pretty pass when I support Scottish independence). They simply would not want to live in what they regarded as an isolationist and hard-right country. It is equally plausible that a majority in Northern Ireland would in those circumstances favour joining the Republic. Is it not bleakly ironic that those who wave the Union Jack most ardently, yourselves included, may well be responsible for the destruction of Britain?
Alex O’Brien
Glasgow

Detective work

Sir: I was surprised to read in Andrew Marr’s diary (18 June) his claim that Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie were responsible for inventing the modern detective story. In fact, America’s Edgar Allan Poe is typically considered the father of both the modern detective genre and, more famously, the modern horror genre. His C. Auguste Dupin puzzled out the murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841, 46 years before the publication of Holmes’s debut in A Study in Scarlet.
S.D. Platton
Washington DC

Lay off Oldham

Sir: In mourning the loss of the ‘lively and multicultural town’ he grew up in, Anthony Whitehead has sadly contributed to the perpetration of toxic myths about the town of Oldham (‘An elegy for Oldham’, 18 June). By his own admission, he doesn’t come back here very often, and if he took the time to acquaint himself properly with the town again, he would not recognise the bemoaned memories firmly lodged in the 1980s and 1990s.

Oldham still is a multicultural town, with nearly a quarter of its population having roots in Pakistan, Bangladesh and eastern Europe. However, it is not a town stricken by racial tension and segregation; instead it is rich in its diversity and cultural integration. The town’s two most racially segregated and failing secondary schools were closed and brought together in a single-site academy, which is flourishing as a successful modern multicultural school.

Further, Oldham no longer stands on its own as a traditional mill town. It is now a fully integrated part of the Greater Manchester city region. In the last year Oldham College had the highest number of successfully completed apprenticeships of all ten further education colleges in Greater Manchester. There is also a university campus in Oldham, delivering degrees and higher-level technical and professional education. Add this to the fact that Oldham is eight miles from the epicentre of investment in the Northern Powerhouse, and a very different picture emerges.


Anthony Whitehead describes his nights in the Black Horse in the late 1980s, being entertained by a local blues legend. I was one of the members of that band, and having played in the Black Horse every Friday night and Sunday afternoon for a couple of years at that time, I can understand why Mr Whitehead’s perceptions are hazy and distorted.

Oldham is a town with an optimistic outlook for a great future. I hope this letter goes some way to rectifying the disservice which has been done to its residents.
Nick Middleton
Head of Strategy, Oldham College

Presidential outsiders

Sir: To claim that money is largely the reason for electoral success in US presidential elections (Letters, 18 June) is by no means true. Jeb Bush’s campaign had more than $120 million to spend (the most of any candidate), and contacts far superior to any other. He lasted only 20 days from the first primary. The people of America now largely seem to favour an ‘outsider’, hence the surge in popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Yet this is no recent thing. One just has to look at the 2008 presidential election, when a young black senator from Illinois became president, or further back the 1860 election, won by Abraham Lincoln (a working-class man from Kentucky).
Guy Walker
Oxford, Oxfordshire

Swiss issues

Sir: When James Delingpole has recovered from his Julie Andrews moment, he might look at a more realistic model country than Switzerland (‘I’ve seen the future — and it’s beautiful’, 18 June). That is Japan, a small island like our own, hugely successful economically in the past but now increasingly overshadowed by its continental rivals. We live in a globalised world whose main players have categorically stated that they will be doing deals with trading blocs, not small individual countries — a lesson that the Japanese are only slowly learning.

Switzerland woke up to this a bit earlier and until recently has been hammering on the doors of the EU and begging for admission. I suspect that it has only desisted in the hope that a UK exit would break up the EU into the usual set of squabbling individual countries which it has so successfully fended off in the past.

Besides, although Switzerland has fantastic scenery, I’m not sure that I would choose as a role model a country whose main claims to fame are cheese, cuckoo clocks, banks that are even dodgier than ours, and Dignitas.
Jenny FitzGerald
Gascony, France

Campaigning in uniform

Sir: Julian Lloyd asks whether there was dispensation to campaign in uniform in the 1945 general election (Letters, 18 June). There was, as in July 1945 we were still at war with Japan. Major Iain Macleod stood in the Western Isles and lost, but Brigadier Selwyn Lloyd stood in the Wirral and won.
Sir David Madel
Middleton Moor, Suffolk

Off message

Sir: Officers were not reluctant to appear in uniform at elections after the first world war. The picture of retired Brigadier-General Sir Algernon Bewicke-Copley on his election address as Conservative candidate for Doncaster in 1922 shows him in full dress uniform, cocked hat and feathers. His election slogan was ‘We must not put up with slackers’. The Tory vote dropped sharply.
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords, London SW1

France’s Radio 4

Sir: As someone who’s been employed by Radio 4 in various capacities over more than 30 years — from staff producer to freelance writer and performer — I’m very glad it exists. ‘What other national broadcaster,’ asks Dr Ann Soutter (Letters, 18 June), ‘offers serious programmes on politics, philosophy, science, religion at nine in the morning?’ Well, this morning on France Culture I listened to a fascinating discussion about Brexit, featuring the Speccie’s own Toby Young. And over the week on France Culture, or on its sister station France Inter, I can hear a range of features, documentaries, talks, readings and radio dramas, just as ambitious and wide-ranging as those in Radio 4’s schedules. We’re right to be proud of Radio 4. But maybe we shouldn’t get too smug about it.
David Jackson Young
Edinburgh

Star power at Ascot

Sir: Robin Oakley is right that, in recent years at least, Royal Ascot hasn’t had a centrepiece race (Notes on…, 11 June). However, this year the coveted Gold Cup, run as ‘the Gold Cup in Honour of The Queen’s 90th Birthday’, returned to centre stage. There, the aptly named winner, Order Of St George, is already being spoken of as a possible successor to Yeats, which won the race four years running from 2006. Let’s hope that such a prospect and its potential popular appeal will help keep the feature race of Ladies’ Day in its rightful place as the meeting’s historic centrepiece — even if never again the most valuable race at Royal Ascot.
Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire

Don’t think alike

Sir: Over many years, though not quite since the days of Mr Addison and Mr Steele, I have found an easy way of deciding which way to vote, take a view or indeed action on important subjects. I see which way the Economist, the CBI, the FT, the Liberal party and, subliminally, the BBC, tell me I should go, and do the reverse.
Colin Akester
Richmond on Thames, Surrey

Whose sovereignty?

Sir: Nick Cohen expresses outrage that ‘supposed Burkeans’ wish to use ‘the results of a continental-style plebiscite to overrule the sovereignty of Parliament’ (‘Brexit’s bitter harvest’, 18 June). But it is to our MPs in person that we give the power to represent us. We have never given them the right to hand over to external bodies over which we have no control the powers of the Parliament to which he pays lip service. No other mechanism than the referendum now exists to wrest them back.
Basil Purdue
Iwerne Minster, Dorset

Restoration game

Sir: Reading Martin Vander Weyer this week (Any other business, 18 June), I was struck by two things. First, that he was drinking Guinness at 6 a.m. Gosh, what a constitution! Second, that he had decided to be a roundhead rather than a cavalier and vote Remain. But then, the cavaliers won in the end, with the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.
Jerry Emery
Lewes, East Sussex

Caffeine dreams

Sir: Andrew Marr (Diary, 18 June) is quite right. The age-old myth that coffee enhances one’s functioning is a complete fantasy. I regularly have a coffee minutes before going to bed, and more often than not, fall asleep instantly.
Benjamin Isaacson
London NW11


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