It’s the Democracy, Stupid

Gosh, things are hotting up. In the last 48 hours both David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn have made fools of themselves in public, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has had an article in the Times urging people to vote Remain in order to contribute to the management of the EU migration problem (in which, by the way, the lone sane voice of Britain has been ignored), and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, has advised EU heads of government to abandon their “Utopian dreams” of ever-closer union, because it is quite obviously alienating voters across the continent.

In his trying appearance on a Sky TV Q & A, during one of the brief interstices in which he was not being savaged and laughed at by the studio audience, Cameron referred to the strange bed-fellows that the campaign has made, and mentioned that the non-Establishment Corbyn and Greens were both on his side, as though this were some sort of sober coalition of the commonsensical against the madness of Brexit. In fact both the Greens and Old, Marxist Labour are in favour of the EU because it has demonstrably been very bad news for everything they hate – enterprise, economic growth, parliamentary democracy, prosperity. The alliance is one that any Conservative prime minister should repudiate, just as the Leave camp has decently distanced itself from the offer of support from Marine Le Pen. 

But the hero of the hour is surely Donald Tusk. If a European grandee had made such a statement 20 years ago, and had had his way, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Now, I am by trade a journalist, not a politician, and so not prone to monomaniacal vanity. I realise it is extremely unlikely that Mr Tusk was moved, in his speech the other day to ministers in Luxembourg, by the blog I posted on May 12th.  But it’s as if he was. I refer you, even if you’ve already read it, to the one entitled “Pulling out of the EU is our best shot at saving Europe”. I’m not going to repeat myself here. It’s bad enough working for nothing, slumming it in cyberspace with my can of spray-paint directed at an infinite wall, without having to do it twice.

But at last a high-ranking Eurocrat has had the guts to state the obvious, and here I’m not quoting him, but inferring the gist of his message; “You guys had better get over your starry-eyed obsession with creating a new nation called Europe, because Joe Public ain’t buying it. You’re not diminishing his love of his own national democracies, you’re reviving it, and if you stamp out the local democratic voice it will take to the barricade and the petrol-bomb instead. We’re going to lose the UK, the far-right and far-left are on the march all over the continent, Hollande and Merkel are on their way out with their replacement up for grabs, Greece is now dependent on its black market just to function on the streets, Austria’s presidency was snatched from the far-right by a whisker of dubious postal votes, and all you can come up with as a solution is more and faster integration. Wake up and smell the coffee!”

And Mr Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland and an academic historian, knows what happens when repression causes reaction. In his own country a popular anti-Soviet movement was beaten down by a pro-Soviet establishment on its last legs in 1981, with the help of Russian troops in Polish uniforms – unlike 1968 in what was then Czechoslovakia, when they wore their own.

But it is a repeat of 1968 that looms. All it will take is a heat-wave, and the water-cannon will be out again on the streets of Paris and Marseilles, Berlin and Munich, Athens, Rome, Madrid… (If I were Vladimir Putin I’d be planning to catch the wave with organised pro-Russian demonstrations in Lithuania, the popular reaction to which would necessitate a “peace-keeping” intervention by Russian tanks, just to test the steel of Nato, and prove that the EU is spineless.) But again Britain will catch a milder form of the flu, just voting Brexit and enjoying a peaceful, constitutional change of prime minister and cabinet. The same thing happened in the aftermath of 1848, and indeed 1918.

But will Mr Tusk have his way? It seems horribly unlikely (see that previous post). So brace yourselves for another 1968, only without any of that nonsense about flower-power and free love. And brace yourselves, also, for Britain being blamed, even though it will all be the fault of the Eurocrats, because in their eyes it will be all our fault for re-establishing the pre-eminence in European politics of that dangerous, damaging thing called democracy.

Cameron should have said what he believed.

Shortly after David Cameron had become leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition I had a conversation  with a young friend who was a wonk in those dying days of Labour government, and in a spirit of eceumenical good fellowship (having worked at Conservative Central Office at the same time as DC myself, though we never got matey) I offered this observation: that the only thing Cameron truly believed in was his duty and right, as a highly intelligent and highly educated wealthy aristocrat, to lead the nation. Everything else was a matter of pragmatism. In other words, the only principle he actually held dear was the only one to which he could not publicly admit.

This went down a storm with the young Labourite – until I added that I rather approved of the Tory leader’s attitude. I’m not out of that drawer myself, but I’ve never been very good at envy or resentment, which is largely why I’m not a socialist. Poverty, not inequality, is the enemy in my book. And the idea that you have a moral obligation to use your privilege for the public good is noble, and is possibly the only instinct that unites Cameron with John Lennon, or any of the lesser celebrities of our own time who use their names to promote causes in which they believe. Their opinions tend to be ignorant and fatuous, and I wish they’d shut up, but that’s not the point. I still admire them for their sense of responsibility, for not just soaking up the cash and keeping their heads down.

But that’s another topic. In the current referendum campaign our Prime Minister has fallen upon another principle to which he cannot admit. All the dire warnings of economic collapse and war in Europe have been received with admirable scepticism by the public, and of course he doesn’t believe them either. He has been seduced by the drug of politics, and is fighting for his record in the history books for its own sake, and by any scare-mongering tactic available. But much deeper lies a truly held belief: that a popular movement expressed in a referendum cannot be allowed to succeed in defiance of an elected government’s will. What would be next? Referendums on capital punishment, the foreign aid budget, the treatment of convicted paedophiles? All of these would drag us down to barbarism. Just look at Strictly and Eurovision!

And, again, I’m kind of with him. We elect people whose job it is to know stuff to take decisions on our behalf, because we don’t have the time. And yet when the experts disagree they refer the matter to the ignorant, and vie for popular support through hyperbole. It is a repudiation of an electoral system that has kept Britain far more stable and secure than most of its European neighbours for two centuries and more, and opens the door to the rule of the mob – unless the side that is challenging the Establishment always loses, as it always has, so far.

This referendum is binding on government only because Cameron said it would be, and only he made it possible. We have no conventionally, let alone constitutionally enshrined popular trigger for referendum, only a very recent one for a parliamentary debate, so it’s his own stupid fault for creating this show-down. If he had made membership of the EU a general election issue he would have skewered an Opposition in pieces on the floor, with Corbyn obliged to oppose and discredit Brexit as he is now discrediting Remain, and won by a country mile. But of course that is mere fantasy. If Cameron had gone down that road he would have been leading a united cabinet for Brexit, with the feeble Corbyn hopelessly opposing for Remain. Popular will cannot undermine government, and the actions of a privileged Prime Minister cannot undermine the native conservative instinct of British voters to trust a disinterested toff. If Cameron had stuck to those two principles he would now be on the brink of eclipsing Thatcher as the saviour of a nation facing ignominy, whereas he is now, win or lose, politically doomed. He should just have said what he truly believed. It wouldn’t have taken very long.

EU Youth is so Yesterday

It seems to have become generally accepted among commentators on the referendum campaign – from Philip Stephens in the FT a couple of weeks ago (and thanks to my Dutch economist friend Harald for alerting me to that one) to Rod Liddle in his Sunday Times video today – that a substantial majority of young British voters (say 18-30) are in favour of Britain staying in the EU, but that most of them probably won’t bother to vote; whereas the over-50s are keen voters who are mostly for getting out, so the result hangs in the balance. But why are the young so pro-EU?

1) Because the over-50s are keen voters who are mostly for getting out.

2) Because they think that European economic co-operation has secured peace in Europe.

3) Because the Leave campaign is led by unashamedly articulate intellectuals.

The answer to all of these, of course, is ‘Get over your cocky, chippy ignorance and read some books’, but let’s take them one by one.

1) The post-war boom in the 1950s and ’60s needed a market, and found it by giving the mass of the young their own cheap, mass-produced music and clothes. Unfortunately this also led to their having their own opinions, which were mainly that the austerity of their childhoods was the fault of their parents for fighting a war, and so all the views of the older generation on patriotism, sexual continence, religion, and social cohesion in any form had to go out of the window, with incalculable social misery over the subsequent decades resulting. The fact that their elders had had no stomach for war after the ’14-’18 show, but pulled together anyway to save their children, and all of Europe, from Nazi tyranny seemed to escape them. But now those children have grown up, got over their hippy phase, and learnt to value the British democracy, the principles of free dissent and independence, that permitted it. Foreign oligarchy and national impotence loom, but their pampered offspring don’t seem to care. It’s a just punishment on them. But I take a relaxed, Aristotelian view on that new tendency to eschew the ballot-box. The Greek observed that it’s a good thing for a blind horse to be also slow; and if today’s young are stupid enough to follow Russell Brand and decide that voting isn’t cool, I’d rather they didn’t do it. Go upstairs and play your computer-games. The grown-ups are talking. 

And as for that ‘harking back to the Empire’ stuff – go back to your room. I want to trade freely with Commonwealth countries without EU restrictions. I don’t want them ruled from Whitehall. Grow up.

2) Well, that one’s just straightforward nonsense. In a world in which the USA, Russia and China not only have the ability to start a nuclear war but also – God forbid – the land-mass to sustain and survive one, European economic co-operation is the consequence of peace, not its cause. And the cause is NATO, not the EU. The fact that David Owen has come out for Brexit says it all.

3) This, I’m afraid, is the big one. For the mass of British 18-30s are the victims of a state secondary education system that discourages excellence, scepticism, inquiry and thought, and giggly resentment of the swot who knows stuff and can talk about it has become the respectable default position in their adult lives. Clever and educated comedians have to dumb down to get a TV gig, grown-ups read Harry Potter books, and Times leaders no longer respect the sanctity of the sentence. And even young ex-public schoolboys, who know better, litter their conversation with redundancies and affect the moronic ‘up-talk’ lest they appear to be swanking. First we nobly said that ignorance consequent on poverty was not shameful; but that led to a consensus that ignorance itself was not shameful; and now conspicuous erudition is shameful, which means that the thicko thugs have taken over the classroom. And so Michael Gove, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, very different men with different talents and faults, but all very bright, are all defensively branded as weirdos by the millions who were never taught that being knowledgeable and articulate are admirable goals.

Well, that’s Youth, as generalised by the media. But does even this broad-brush analysis hold true? Stephens points out that British young people are more internationalist than their seniors; well, yes, but their cultural intake is Atlanticist, not European. They watch and listen to American and British media, and have Eurovision parties to laugh at all the funny foreigners who can’t write songs for toffee, and at our own gentlemanly habit of putting up some new, hopeless act in the contest, knowing full well that any neglected Elton John album track from the last four decades would have trashed anything performed in Stockholm this year. No, they’re not pro-Europe, let alone pro-EU, not really; they just don’t want to look weird, or think like their grand-parents, or think at all. But, since they’re not going to vote anyway, they don’t matter. And if they do decide to vote it will be because they’ve done some homework. I’d be happy with that.

But they are not the problem in this allegedly great democratic, history-changing, nation-defining exercise that we are facing on June 23rd. The problem resides not in the young, but in two men who think they’re young. David Cameron and George Osborne are 49 and 44 respectively. They both did very well very young, their parents are justly proud of them, and all that, and I sincerely salute them. But for them Europe has always been the Future, post-imperial Britain the Past, and they have grown up as young thrusters in a bubble reality. They still think of themselves as young men (and I can’t blame them – I think of them as young men, being DC’s senior by eight years), but they are now facing the possibility that they will shortly become old politicians, their world-view trashed by a new wave of history. Project Fear is actually about their own fear of political mortality, and of the big one for which the end of the earthly career is merely the finger-wagging of the Reaper. If Britain votes Brexit, or even if the vote is close in their favour, they’re both sunk, before they’ve even come to terms with middle age. Their increasingly desperate warnings about the consequences of leaving the EU, which they both know to be speculative if not out-right mendacious, are born simply of this. They’re scared of not being young, of not being the Future any more.

Get over it, guys. It’s over. And the lecture circuit can be a lot of fun, once you’ve realised you’re History.

 

Pulling out of the EU is our best shot at saving Europe

Project Fear, as the official campaign for a Remain vote in the imminent British referendum has come to be called, hit a new low of desperation this week, as both David Cameron and his sometime adversary Gordon Brown told us that a British withdrawal from the EU would lead to instability in Europe, raising the spectre of continental war that we would, once again, feel obliged to sort out, at enormous and damaging cost. Much better to stay in and stop it happening in the first place. Oddly, for someone who has traditionally been so inept on his feet, Brown did it rather better, and elegantly appealed to our patriotic pride as citizens of a country whose power and stability is vitally needed in a union of nations that might otherwise fragment and release the safety-catches.

It was a curious change of tack for a campaign that had previously been trying to convince us that Britain is so small and insignificant that it can’t possibly survive outside the EU. But all the speculative figures about the economic impact of Brexit or staying in – from both sides – have been met with admirable scepticism by the public, because it is quite obvious that nobody really knows, but that the truth is that, as our tactically Remainer Home Secretary, Theresa May, wisely said, “of course the sky won’t fall in” if we leave. So now Remain has taken up the line that has been held by our European neighbours all along, namely that it would be self-centred and irresponsible of huge, benignly powerful Britain to turn its back on a European Union in economic and demographic crisis. 

And the thesis is correct, as far as it goes. Britain leaving the EU will undoubtedly give a spur to the far-left and far-right across Europe, as they exploit the populist impetus for the exit referendum among peoples who are fed up, for all their different reasons, with EU regulations and diktats that neither fit their national models nor respect their individual democracies and local economic interests. And the fringe parties will seize the opportunity quickly, before their national constitutions are amended to remove it, as they surely will be, thus bullying dissent beyond the constraint of constitutional means. For while the cosy club of integrationists in Europe continues to pursue ever-closer union, it will continue to alienate more and more people from mainstream politics, until they conclude that the ballot-box is a con, and take to the streets instead. It’s already happening.

And before very long the centrist politicians who have nailed their careers to the European project of ever-closer union might be strung up from lamp-posts in their capitals – unless they wrench the whole machine into reverse, and scrap any further plans for hammering the remaining 27 round pegs into one, great big square hole, with the interstices filled by terrorists, gangsters and institutionalised fraud. But to do that they would have to admit that they were wrong; and such is the ego of the professional politician that most of them would rather blow their off-shore savings on a pad in Brazil and a berth on the last submarine out of Hamburg than acknowledge and act on the popular will. Better the U-Boat than the U-Turn.

It’s a grim prospect, but there is no evidence that Britain staying in the EU would do anything to avert it, for our warnings about the negative effects of ever-closer union have consistently gone unheeded. The best thing David Cameron managed to extract from his negotiations was an opt-out from a policy that is otherwise assumed to be inexorable – and even that is meaningless, because the more the EU regulates and harmonises the more difficult will be Britain’s position within it, so we’ll end up giving in point by point anyway. And even so he was tersely informed that this was it – you’ve had your renegotiation, now shut up, for good. He was drinking in the Last Chance Saloon, and all he got was a half of warm Pilsner.

So it is absolutely clear that Britain in the EU will be powerless to stop it careering smugly towards disaster. Indeed a Remain vote on June 23rd will only encourage the madness; whereas if we vote Leave we will give heart to democratic rebels all over the continent, and there is at least a chance that the establishment politicians of the other main EU states will take the only course possible to stop their extremists capitalising on popular dissent – which is to embrace the principles of national sovereignty and economic diversity in Europe, and abandon their supranational ambitions before it’s too late. It is a slim chance, but it’s the only one there is.

Why the Comrades really hate the Jews

Let’s get this out of the way at the start. If you’re antisemitic you are hostile to Jews and Palestinians, indeed all Arabs, Babylonians and Phoenicians. So, technically, antisemitism and anti-Zionism are, as British lefties are now stridently insisting, not the same thing. But the term gained currency in the 19th Century, when the Jews were pretty much the only Semites to have hit the European popular radar, so it came to mean, and still means “anti-Jewish”, which makes the lefties, few of whom in any case are sticklers for etymology, wrong; for, no matter how many Jews in the world and even within Israel might repudiate Zionism, its opposite is the belief that Israel should be swept into the sea, and mostly not out of a cultural loyalty to the Diaspora and a pious loathing of the secular Israeli state, involving the humane evacuation and resettlement of Israelis before the tanks roll in. Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are, de facto,  synonymous.

Anyway, if I went down that road I’d also have to insist that homophobia is a fear of things that are the same, that a bastion is not a stronghold but a gun-emplacement protruding from a castle wall, and that suburbs is a singular noun. Try to defy every wave on the rising tide of ignorance and you end up looking like a total Cnut (who, by the way, didn’t actually… Oh, forget it). So, for the current purpose, antisemitism will do.

If you’ve been awake for the last few months you will know that this phenomenon has become something of a problem for the Labour Party, as though it didn’t already have enough; but for any badgers who might be scraping the dust from their eyes by reading this blog, various people of no great importance in Labour were suspended or had their wrists slapped over comments that were anti-Jewish, and then Ken Livingstone, whose public profile is still rather higher than that of Jeremy Corbyn (currently Leader of the Opposition), mouthed off on the radio to the effect that Hitler was a Zionist “until he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”. 

Well, at least nobody can call Ken a Holocaust-denier. But what on earth did he mean? Surely not that Zionism is a sane and rational position from which only the suddenly demented would depart? No. He meant that Hitler’s supposed flirtation with the idea of a Jewish homeland in 1932, before he lost the realpolitik plot, taints the whole idea by association with the most evil man in modern history. Never mind that that flirtation has anyway subsequently been debunked by a string of proper historians pouring scorn on the faux scholarship on which Ken based his remarks. It’s the anti-Zionism that matters.

And the big question that nobody, as far as I’m aware, has addressed (though I can’t read everything, and do correct me if I’ve missed something you’ve seen) is Why? Whence this enthusiasm on the hard Left for the enemies of Israel (the country and the world-wide nation)? 

In one sense this is a bigger problem for what we might think of as Real Labour – not the Tory-lite, election-grabbing Blairites, but the mass of decent, thoughtful people who used to lead their local parties, and represent their communities in Parliament in the long haul for post-imperial social justice – than it is for Corbyn and his ilk. For it makes them question their roots, and wonder if they might unwittingly have been, all along, the acceptable face of something deeply unpleasant.

Such people are not antisemitic. Indeed it is one of their core beliefs that all the people who reside in Britain should be equal in the eyes of its law and the policies of its governments (the Remainers among them haven’t twigged that continued British membership of the EU will destroy their influence on this, as so much else, but that’s for another time). They also frankly admire, as any sensible person would, the Jewish contribution to Western culture. And for them, as for any paid-up member of our civil society, differences in cultural and racial and religious background are the source of genial conversation and mutual admiration, not pretexts for ghetto-isation and politically sponsored victim-hood, let alone for witch-hunting.

And yet sometimes they worry. Surely theirs is the party of the oppressed and the excluded? So why can the Jews, the most consistently persecuted people in history, not be relied upon to vote en masse for a Labour candidate, even when that candidate is Jewish? It doesn’t compute. The conundrum has a lot to do with the fact that they tend to think of voters as blocs of interest, rather than constantly shifting coalitions of opinion; which is odd, when you think about it, because Labour has excelled by responding to public opinion (think of Blair and devolution, Lords reform and the ludicrous hunting ban), whereas the Tories do well when people vote for their pockets. But it’s the same problem that Real Labour has with blacks and Asians, and indeed the whole industrial working class. Sometimes people vote for what’s good for them, not for who is traditionally on their side, and members of the same perceived interest bloc will perversely vote in different ways. It mystifies those old, well-meaning and often charming Real Labour stalwarts. But, alas, in the Jewish context, that attitude is what connects them with the Trotskyites and Stalinists (or “Tankies”) they so despise.

Ah, Trots and Tankies. Let’s include all the sub-movements of the two whose names include the word “Workers”, so that we can say Trots, Workers And Tankies, and use an irresistible acronym. I have old friends among them, all of whom left the Labour Party because it was too right-wing (not under Blair, by the way, but under Kinnock), though they might now have rejoined – I live abroad, so I’ve lost touch with the Internationalists. But I know that they all have Jewish mates – who doesn’t? Even Ken mentioned the “friend in Golders Green” – but also that the individual is of no account in their world-view of blocs of humanity working out the great dialectic. And here the Jews are the ultimate enemy.

If you were stuck in a stalled train with a bloke whose whole life revolved around football in, say, Shropshire, he might break the silence by saying “So, you a Wolves fan?” If you answered in the affirmative, joy would result. If you claimed allegiance to another team, a lively but amicable conversation could ensue. But if you replied that you had no interest whatever in football, a stony silence would be the best of all possible outcomes, the worst being getting your head kicked in. And that’s the problem TWATs have with Jews.

In the context of this current hoo-ha, those TWATs who know some history are keen to point out that it was Communists and Anarchists who organised the demonstration that stopped the antisemitic British Union of Fascists’ rally through the East End of London in 1936, and, in the judicious absence of any fascists, had a riot-battle around Cable Street with the merely order-keeping police instead. There’s a strong case that this was a flash-point that high-lighted British sympathy with British Jews, and stopped the Mussolini-  and Hitler- sympathisers in their tracks. Fine. I’m glad they did it. But why did they do it, and why did they subsequently turn on the people they had defended?

In 1936 it seemed to the TWATs of the time, not unreasonably, that the whole pseudo-democratic, industrial-capitalist order of the Western world might be about to crumble, and either Fascism or Communism would take over. It was what the Spanish Civil War was all about. The Jews of Europe, a people without borders, oppressed to a greater or lesser extent by their rulers and with a common language of Yiddish (though Spanish Jews had their own – never mind), were perfectly poised to be in the forefront of the Internationalist revolution. And what did they do? Bugger all. They just tried to get on with their neighbours, lead decent lives, and not be seduced and divided by the oratory of demagogues. They were not interested in the game. They didn’t lift a finger to undermine the capitalist nation-states in which they lived; in fact, oh, easily dozens of them ran the banks that kept capitalism going. Then the fascists and the communists killed them by the million. But that’s what happens when you don’t engage with the dialectic. It served them right.

And then, in 1948, when there had still been a chance that they might have thrown their weight into the abolition of the nation-state, they had the effrontery to take the capitalist bribe and start a new one of their own, and secure its borders! This was an act of treason against History for which the TWATs will never forgive them.

So forget any plastic sympathy for Palestinians, which, noticeably, is not extended to the victims of, for example, Robert Mugabe or Vladimir Putin. This is anti-Zionism, antisemitism, Jew-hating, call it what you will, pure and evil, because the Jews are the enemies of the Revolution. That’s it. It did not surface in the Socialist foundation of the Labour Party, nor has it been a noticeable stripe in its colours until now, when the TWATs, God willing temporarily, have taken over. But it is not an aberration; it is part and parcel of International Socialism, and the majority in the British Labour movement who are disgusted by it must sort out their philosophy and their allegiance right speedily.

Oh, by the way, do raise a glass this Thursday, May 5th, for the birthday of the great Jew Karl Marx who, being that terrible thing, a brilliant individual, will of course be neglected by those who invoke his name in their own hateful causes.

Footnote: Hours after I posted this there appeared in The Times a piece by Daniel Finkelstein that also addresses the roots of Labour antisemitism, though from a different perspective. Good piece and well worth reading.

 

 

 

 

Europeans love Britain. So vote Leave.

The longer I live on the Continent, the more it is borne in upon me that we Brits are, in only the most positive way, the Americans of Europe. London is so much bigger than any other European capital, and, unlike in even Paris or Madrid or Rome, examples of the grandeur sought by the tourist are far too numerous and too widely spread to be walked across in a day, even by the fittest. And look at BeNeLux. Brussels, Luxembourg City and my home of Amsterdam, though rich in prettiness if not grandeur, are outright tiny by comparison. Then there’s the extraordinary choice available to the British consumer in all departments (except horse-meat), and the military and naval clout that still dwarfs that of our neighbours, and the pre-eminence of the City of London, and the history of global power and persisting cultural influence, through film, television, advertising and popular music that Europe admires but can’t match, and our rich vocabulary in genial banter. In short, the Londoner in Europe enjoys the kudos of the New Yorker in London.

Sometimes the admiration can be grudging; Roman and Parisien men cling to pride in their native style, which is fair enough – except that you will wreck the line of an all-but-weightless French or Italian suit by putting anything in the pockets, which is why they now affect the ghastly man-bag, whereas a proper British suit, constructed for practical use, can carry a wallet and a phone, a notebook and pen, a hip-flask and some change, a cigarette case and a heavy silver lighter, all without showing a bulge. Also it will not be ruined if you get caught in the rain. Its weight might be inconvenient in a southern European climate, but that is not the point, as clearly demonstrated by the fact that the Germans also favour the lighter, impractical cloth. But a British suit abroad draws gasps of admiration and envy, even though it might have cost a fifth of the price of an Armani or a Hugo Boss (draw your own metaphor). Our neighbours clearly admire British style, but have to have a bit of their own as a point of national pride. Why else would they hoover up Burberry and Barbour, brands with which they cannot begin to compete?

When a European professional gets posted to London it is a cause of celebration (posh accommodation, of course, being provided by the company, but just as it would be anywhere else). This is why London, in terms of population, is the fourth largest French city, and also bursting with expats from all over continental Europe. It has more and better hotels, bars, restaurants and shops than anywhere in the world. But the best thing about it is that here even the more powerful Yanks are levelled to the status of fellow-expats, can’t swank too much, and have to put up with their boorish insecurity and skin-deep culture being loftily ignored.

For in Europe we British suffer none of the negatives associated with the United States. We are mild-mannered and cultured and courteous and circumspect. When we settle in a foreign country we make an effort to become at least functional in the local language. Sure, we have our visiting louts for football matches and stag weekends, but even these earn a certain respect for being so much more moronically arrogant than anything the natives could put up in opposition. For they are not just drunken thugs; they are (as a rule) English drunken thugs, the de-mobbed army of Henry the Fifth, usually open to simply worded reason from the voice of command, but not to be messed with. Yanks are just shallow, starry-eyed gawpers, and gangling woossies who can’t take their drink.

To cosmopolitan Europeans, of whatever station, Britain rocks. European politicians hate us for our historically stable democracy, our insistence on the primacy of common law, our effective, adversarial parliamentary system and its straight connection between the elector and the directly accountable elected, and our prudish revulsion at lapses of probity in our leaders, as well as our uniquely British confidence and style. But their people hate them, and love us. 

Recently that great champion of democratic liberty, the veteran Labour MP Frank Field, has urged British voters to leave the European Union for all the established and well-justified reasons, but also because it would be a way of giving David Cameron a bloody nose without having to vote for the disaster of a Corbyn government. 

It wouldn’t just do that, Frank. It would also give a bloody nose to all the Eurocrats in all the countries of the EU, and make their people, who are fed up with that self-serving, anti-democratic and stagnating oligarchy, love us and look to our leadership all the more.

 

Why work is the curse of the (Champagne) drinking classes

We have all read and heard much about what motivates campaigners for a Leave vote in the forthcoming British referendum on continued membership of the EU.  Starry-eyed nostalgia for Empire, hard-headed analysis of economic and political reality, first-hand experience of the European racket, like that of the scarily bright and articulate Daniel Hannan MEP (whose new book ‘Why Vote Leave‘ should be read by everyone who wishes to cast an informed vote in June) – all of these play their part. 

And yet Remain remains the Establishment position, and remains also on the front foot (a cricketing metaphor that only Commonwealth readers will understand). While dismissing those who want us to get the hell out as nutters of various stripes, we have not applied the same pop psychology to those who want Britain to stay the hell in.

So let’s start at the top. David Cameron gave us the impression that if he didn’t return from his negotiations in Europe with a deal he could recommend to the British public he would resign as PM and campaign for leaving. I, for one, admired him for this principled stance. Unfortunately what it actually meant was that any deal he secured would become the one he wanted, and he has painted himself into a political corner, having to advocate continued membership lest the credibility of his government be destroyed, and the Tory right take over his party. That outcome might be a grim prospect for some, but it does not affect the argument on the merits of British membership.

Nevertheless, he is pulling out all the stops to secure a Remain verdict. President Obama’s un-American use of the word ‘queue’ stinks of an outgoing incumbent who doesn’t much care any more, and was happy to take his text from a mate on his way out. The most unlikely celebrity Remainder, Jeremy Clarkson, is such good friends with the PM that he was able to call him when things got a bit sticky in Argentina (see his interview in The Times a couple of weeks ago). Don’t be surprised if Clarkson is recognised in Cameron’s resignation honours list for his services to exports (which, in fairness, he would thoroughly – I was going to say richly – deserve). Then there’s Niall Ferguson, the man who wrote ‘Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World’, a brilliant and ambitious historian who was just too bright and awkward to be the national treasure of a media don he wanted to be, and whose Remain stance now makes him look like a scholarship boy siding with the bullies. 

Let’s now jump down to the likes of you and me, before addressing the middle level of power and influence. Of course many people are worried about the uncertainty of Brexit, whether it will cost jobs and cause recession, and I would refer them to Labour MPs Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart, who are clearly, within their party, the successors of europhobes Barbara Castle and Peter Shore, as well as the great Austin Mitchell, and understand that the greatest peace-time evil, unemployment, has had a field-day in the Eurozone. These voters must just make themselves as well-informed as they can, develop a nose for mendacious propaganda, and vote with their heads and hearts on the day.

Others, possibly more secure in their employment, are worrying that we have a moral obligation to support European co-operation, even buying the old lie that it has kept the peace (almost) in, well, all the European countries that actually sort of matter, since 1945, with NATO merely lucky in its embarrassing success. They miss the point that after 1945 the old Franco-German animus ceased to be of global significance; the initiative had passed to the US, Russia and China. Only if Europe were united (remember ‘ever closer union’) with a single defence and foreign policy, and armies under a single command, could Europe be the crucible for World War III. And if southern European countries are in serious trouble as a result of their signing up to a currency union they can’t possibly sustain – well, the UK will have a lot more money for foreign aid when its contribution is no longer filtered and diminished through the EU. If the power to do good in the world, especially Europe, is what worries you, then vote Leave.

But now we come to the people in the middle of this debate, the vocal Remainders with collective cred, the’business leaders’, the global bankers, the diplomats, the Treasury officials. And here I adduce a personal experience.

For five years we have been resident ex-pats in Amsterdam (see my previous blog), and our friends here have voiced concern over what might happen to us were we to become no longer citizens of the EU, as though we will be clinging to the undercarriage of the last departing chopper. But this city is crammed with ex-pat professionals from the US, Australia, India, you name it, and they seem to get on pretty well. Maybe we’d have to present ourselves at the British Consulate, which is in the smartest part of town, just by the most beautiful public park, for a rubber stamp once a year. Maybe we’d have to fill in a few more forms. What the hell? It’s just a bit more work.

And that, I’m afraid, is the point for all these experts and leaders and wonks whose pronouncements we are told to take with nods of solemn respect. They don’t want an upheaval because it will mean more work. They will have to deal with new conditions, get out of their comfort zones and think anew, and the younger colleagues who are after their jobs will be better at it than they are. George Osborne’s officials must have laughed at being asked, for the only time in their careers, to come up with the gloomiest forecast they could possibly contrive, but they did it because it might mean less work in the long run. Unemployment might be an evil, but having to work harder for your salary, for those with secure jobs, is deeply unattractive, and that’s what all the bankers and civil servants are going to have to do if we vote Leave, because making it work will be their jobs. And, of course, they will do it – because otherwise their juniors will.

There is currently much public resentment at the salaries and bonuses paid to so-called ‘fat cats.’ I’m not in favour of state intervention in private sector salaries and bonuses, because inequality is the price of freedom, and it’s up to these people to square with their consciences what they do with their money. It is a very British vice to confuse morality with good taste. But I have no objection whatever to their being made to work harder, a lot harder, to justify their weekly envelope. 

So if you harbour envious hostility against bankers and unsackable civil servants, vote Leave, and make them suffer while the rest of us benefit from the freedom.

Next time; Why so many Europeans want to be British