As we watch the Eurozone catastrophe enter its latest ‘final phase’ one phrase keeps recurring to me. That phrase is ‘banging on about Europe’. Does anybody else remember when those words were used (at least since Maastricht I think) to dismiss absolutely anybody who was worried about the overreach or mismanagement of the whole EU project? Europhiles from the three main parties loved the phrase. Whenever they wanted to portray a political opponent as a tedious, fringe obsessive the words sprung to their lips. For instance, whenever he wanted to paint the Tory party as a right bunch of nutters, Nick Clegg would portray them as the type of bores who keep ‘banging on about Europe’.
Anyhow – I have been wondering in recent days whether any of these fans of the EU might apologise for those years of insults. Whenever facts catch up with them most people are either too proud or too scared (fearing they may have wasted their lives) to admit that they were wrong. They either cling to their earlier prejudices or find some way of pretending they were right at the time (or would have been had things only turned out differently). Others change their attitudes quietly. Only a brave few ever admit publicly that they were wrong. But I wonder whether even one person of the Mandelson / Heseltine / Clarke / Clegg school of things could be persuaded to be honest in this matter?
It need not detract from the many other interesting and important things these men did with their careers. We would not, for instance, need to forget that Mr Clegg managed to destroy the Liberal Democrat party, or managed to stop boundary reforms which would have made Britain a more democratic country. But I wonder whether, as people like him watch Greece crashing in an entirely foreseeable manner, any of these individuals might just be cajoled into apologising to the people they belittled for years?
After all, as we watch the catastrophe play out, doesn’t ‘banging on about Europe’ turn out to have been a rather worthwhile use of one’s time? Indeed mightn’t it turn out to have been one of the most important – if thankless – political tasks of a generation?