Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 4 June 2005

I wish I could share the widespread joy at the great European ‘No

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I wish I could share the widespread joy at the great European ‘No’. Yes, the word ‘No’ is good. Yes, I feel the normal human pleasure at the discomfiture of the politicians. I have enjoyed seeing Peter Mandelson trying to worm round the result and Neil Kinnock raging against his former friends on the French Left and Jean-Luc Dehaene telling France that it, not the EU, now has the problem, and the outside broadcast team sabotaging John Major, sounding like a Dalek on Valium, as he tries to tell us all over again about his wonderful ‘opt-out’ and the importance of ‘variable geometry’. But I fear there is very little chance of any serious break with the European ideal that has dominated Continental politics since the Fifties. This is because it retains complete control of the relevant institutions. The Commission, with its power to frame legislation, is an unanswerable bureaucracy. The Council of Ministers, with its control of the levers of power, can almost always broker a deal. The European Parliament, with its lack of responsibility to member states, wants always to increase European integration. The European Court is mandated to give the European ideal the force of law and find all cases in favour of ever-closer union. These four will continue, and they will never relinquish power unless they are forced to do so by member states with an electoral mandate to reclaim power to themselves. Referendums can delay the worst things, but unless they produce new political leadership, that is all. In Britain, they are seen by politicians as a way of avoiding difficult questions about Europe, of sloughing them off. Already you hear people saying that the ‘No’ vote takes Europe ‘off the agenda’. ‘No’ will only mean ‘No’ when people understand that it puts the subject on the agenda more than ever, when we begin to reverse what has happened, not just to throw a block in the road.

In a round-table discussion of post-election politics which will appear in these pages next week, I fear that, in the heat of the moment, I become rather rude to Michael Heseltine, who so ably dominates our debate. I accuse him of holding a view of Europe which you have to be over 70 to believe. I’m sorry for the impertinence, but I think the substance of the view is right. Sometimes there are ideas in politics which have a very strong hold on one generation, and almost none on the next. The European ideal, in its EU institutional form, is one of these. The overwhelmingly governmental and bureaucratic model which the Treaty of Rome began in 1957 now seems as old-fashioned as prices-and-incomes policy or bread rationing. Many younger people believe vaguely in ‘Europe’, but not in this form. In the French referendum, 57 per cent of the Michael Heseltine generation voted ‘Yes’ and 43 per cent voted ‘No’. Among voters under 30, those proportions were more than reversed — 38 per cent ‘Yes’, 62 per cent ‘No’. There is no longer a public language which can convince new voters to support the existing order. This does not persuade me, however, that the EU necessarily faces an immediate crisis. One of the great mistakes made by the pragmatic British has been to say that because something won’t work, it will not happen. (John Major said this about the single currency after we fell out of the ERM.) But in politics things that can’t work happen very often, sometimes for decades. The best example is Soviet communism. In the history of the EU, this latest revolt may be the equivalent of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, in which case there are another 34 years of error to go.

Here is a glossary of various phrases in use in Conservative circles. ‘This is a time for unity’ means ‘I want to be leader’, as does ‘Let’s end all this petty squabbling’. ‘The battle has to be fought on the centre ground’ means ‘I want to be leader’. ‘I want to pay full tribute to Michael Howard’ means ‘I want to be leader’. ‘I am in listening mode’ means ‘I want to be leader’. ‘I don’t think Europe is going to be an issue in the immediate future’ means ‘I want to be leader and my name is Kenneth Clarke’.

When the McCartney sisters went to Washington in March to draw attention to the IRA murder of their brother Robert, they were received by President Bush. Even the usual pro-Sinn Fein politicians condemned the killing. The most egregious, Congressman Pete King, said that the McCartney killing meant that the IRA should disband. Time has quickly healed Mr King’s sense of outrage, however. Now he says that the killing was ‘the sort of pub dispute that could have happened in any city in the US’ and that there is ‘no evidence that it was sanctioned by the IRA’. Watch out for this line. It will develop and hold pretty quickly unless challenged. Why isn’t Tony Blair speaking up for the Stephen Lawrence of Northern Ireland?

In a village I know ‘travellers’ recently arrived. They parked on the cricket field, driving their vehicles on to the pitch, pulled out all the plumbing in the pavilion, thus flooding it, burnt a caravan and an oak tree, and spread their rubbish. Their children catapulted stones at passing cars. The parish council wanted to evict its visitors but, as a public body, it found that it had ‘human rights’ obligations to them, as well as Home Office ‘Guidance on Managing Unauthorised Camping’ which compels it to consider the ‘concerns and expectations’ of ‘travelling communities’. It therefore relinquished its lease on the cricket field to the landowner, who was freer than the council to get an eviction order. The travellers, however, just tore up some hedges and moved into the next field. Now, at last, they have been evicted from there as well, but the law permits them to come back again after three months. The costs of all this will more or less double the parish council element of next year’s council tax in the village. In theory, the parish council could seek prosecutions for the criminal damage, but they won’t because they fear retribution. The police watchword is to be ‘non-confrontational’. So the travellers know that they have only to threaten a confrontation to get at least part of what they want.

‘Toilets’ says a notice in the offices of The Spectator. This is final confirmation that that word, once a key class indicator, is now universal. No one under the age of 30 winces when it is spoken. Indeed, to insist on the alternative words is now itself naff. Soon the word ‘lavatory’ will be as historical as ‘jakes’, glossed in learned footnotes to explain the 20th century and its social niceties to succeeding generations.