British Eurosceptics

Robin [Baker] reminded me last week that this is the time of year to renew my subscription to the BCiP. I have to report, much to my regret, that I am unable to renew it this year.

Since I am no long paying my subs I will also have to resign from the managing Committee of the BCiP.

This is owing to a fact manifestly obvious to all but the most stubborn: a vote for the British Conservative Party is today a vote of support for the British Eurosceptics. I cannot continue to support this evident piece of hypocrisy. I find myself contradicting my personal principles as a British citizen, a European citizen, a political thinker, a historian and an author. It runs against the whole thread of a work I have been producing since my early twenties.

I have always considered myself a ‘conservative’, that is, I belong to the family of the European centre right — economically liberal and politically aligned to what in most of Europe is seen as Christian Democrat. Yes, I am I suppose a Christian Democrat. I go to church every Sunday and I am an ardent defender of democracy.

We are facing a very dangerous phase in our history right now, which, if we are not careful, could develop into what in most periods of history would be regarded as a war situation. War in twenty-first century Europe is, unfortunately, no longer unthinkable. Unfortunately, I don’t regard today’s Conservative Party adequately equipped to defend us against it. The Eurosceptic of England remind me repeatedly of their forerfathers, the Appeasers. They appease the dictators while setting up policies that look no further than the English Channel. The current Party has lost its weaponry to combat the two poisons of the nineteenth century which became the the cause of war and evil dissension in the twentieth: nationalism and socialism.

I should imagine that most of you would agree with me that Hayek was right to argue in his famous book of the 1940s, The Road to Serfdom, that all forms of socialism, even moderate, tend towards an inhibition of individual liberty. Real Conservatives are the defenders of individual liberty, the liberal ideal. We understand the dangers implicit in François Hollande’s socialists in France and in Gordon Brown’s socialists in Britain, now under Ed Milliband. They cannot be trusted with the national purse.

But what is true of socialism in Europe is also true of nationalism. And this is what the Conservative Part has failed to appreciate. Nationalism, even ‘moderate’ nationalism, infringes upon individual liberties. It was de Gaulle who said that nationalism is about exclusion, in contrast to patriotism, which is about inclusion. It is like a steamroller, flattening all before it and imposing its uniformities.

Of course most British ‘Euorosceptics’ deny they are nationalists. I don’t know who invented this term; it seems to have been born in the columns of the Daily Telegraph in the 1980s, thereby proving the role of the press in spreading this uniform nationalism. If you are truly British you cannot be a nationalist because you belong to a union of four nations. But a ‘Eurosceptic’ is a nationalist. Moreover he is the perpetuator of something that has no precedent in history: English nationalism.

I am struck with how perverse the English nationalist argument is. You find it wherever nationalists want to deny what they really are, such as the ‘respectable’ side of English nationalism. The ‘Eurosceptic’ train of thought has been adopted by Marine LePen’s ‘Front National’ (though Nigel Farage denies it) which now bears many features that you will discover in large swathes of the British Conservative Party as well as UKIP: virulently anti-European, anti-federalist, anti-common currency and anti-parliamentarian. These people don’t support parliamentary democracy; they are advocates of ‘direct democracy’ that would impose its rule by referendums and the internet, not the long analytical, policy-making deliberations of parliamentary assembly. ‘Euroscepticism’ is popular for the same perverse reasons among German nationalists who don’t want to admit what they are (Alternative fûr Deutchsland) and Italian nationalists who refuse their obvious Fascist antecedents (Forza Italia). These guys are dangerous. We are reviving in them old ghosts we long thought dead. To this we can add the Greek neo-nazi Golden Dawn and Hungary’s anti-semitic Jobbic Party. They are all in denial. They all say they belong to their unique national strain. But when Eurosceptics are looking for allies in Europe, this is where they pick them up. Witness what happened to the European Conservative and Reformist Group — or whatever that thing was called — which Cameron, at the beginning of his inglorious reign, set up as an ‘anti-federalist’ party opposed to the Christian Democratic majority PPP in the European Parliament.

What worries me is how rapidly this ugly form of thinking is developing. Steamroller nationalism has now become a streamlined tank. They are forecasting a nationalist (‘Eurosceptic’) sweep in next May’s European elections.

But watch out for what then happens in Britain, where this nationalist nonsense had its origins. David Cameron has allowed the development of two popular referendums which could result in two national catastrophes: the break-up of the United Kingdom and the exit of a perhaps rump Britain from the European Union. ‘Brexit’ is going to happen. The Europeans in the Party are losing, and they have to face up to that fact. Nigel Farrage is winning the debate. Conservatives are turning to him in numbers.

The Brexit vote… that’s only in three years’ time. It is not a long time. To get a reversal of a nationalist culture that has been allowed to breed, with virtually no articulate and determined opposition, over the last four, even five decades is going to demand a super-human effort for the defenders of a liberal Europe. Predictions are that Britain, if put to the referendum, will pull out of the EU. And by a substantial margin. That is not going to change in three years. Let’s stop hiding our heads in the sand.

Who is now defending the idea of a United Kingdom? Not the current Conservative Party; it is the main cause of the development of Scottish nationalism, which hardly existed forty years ago. Who is now defending the idea of Europe? Not the Conservative Party, which was the most European party in Britain forty years ago. I know, there are still the ‘European Conservatives’. These people, I am afraid, are political losers. Or, as Margaret Thatcher called them; they are Wets.

I have tremendously enjoyed our evenings among the members of BCiP and our lively dinners. Of course I could have more as a non-member.

This has been a very difficult decision for me to make. You are special people who are very much, as they say, ‘one of us’. But as an author who professes to tell the truth, who has spent all his adult life working over the problem of Europe, who has covered several centuries of its history, I cannot let my hands be manacled behind my back by a group of politicians — politiciens — I regard as nationalist, dangerously nationalist. Europe now has its depression, its jobless armies, its dictators and demagogues and its nationalists of all sorts. And its Appeasing Conservatives.

Their historical precedents are just awful. Their effect on their own country is more than simply troublesome, it is evil — and all laid out in the yellow press. Their narrow-minded conspiracies on Europe could end in unwanted upheaval. And the time, right now, on our eastern borders is so critical — and manifestly full of risk. We hear those nationalist words of hatred in Ukraine, on both sides of those evolving borders. Don’t underestimate its danger. The grey, cold tide is lapping at the beaches. This could br a flood spillingl into other corners of the Continent. Block it. Don’t let it happen.

To assure my own independence of mind I am obliged to make this choice.

And don’t forget my grand centenary lecture at St George’s on Saturday, 28 June (Sarajevo).

With my very best wishes,

Gregor