Paper No. 38
Robert W Cahn
Dr Helen Szamuely
The British Conundrum
by Helen Szamuely
Dr Helen Szamuely was born in the Soviet Union and attended school in Hungary, Ghana and Britain. She has a First Class degree from the University of Leeds and a D.Phil from the University of Oxford. She has written extensively on Russia, Eastern Europe and the European Union, and is the co-author with Bill Jamieson of A Coming Home or Poisoned Chalice?, a critical study of European Union enlargement.
Liberties, Negative and Positive
by Robert W. Cahn
Robert Cahn was for many years professor of materials science at Sussex University and is now emeritus professor. He is currently a Distinguished Research Fellow in Cambridge University and remains active in writing and editing. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was born in Bavaria in 1924.
Civis Britannicus Sum
by Yahya El-Droubie
Yahya El-Droubie has been an active member of the Bruges group for a number of years. He is a freelance graphic designer who has worked in London and Los Angeles. He is presently engaged in a number of publishing ventures.
The British Conundrum
There is a certain fashion among the trendier "euroreformers", what one might call the "perestroika" school of europhiles, to bemoan Britain's ambivalence about Europe. In particular, they say, were Britain to become more committed to the project (flawed though it is, as they acknowledge with much hand wringing), she would be more helpful to the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, who have traditionally looked to this country for inspiration and guidance. Well, they are half right. Those successor states of the old Habsburg Empire, those recently liberated colonies of the Soviet Empire (and this includes the Baltic states as well as one successor state of Yugoslavia, Slovenia) have, indeed, looked to Britain or, as they so often call it, England. But one of the main reasons for that is Britain's "ambivalence" to Europe, whose history in this century has not been altogether joyful.
Britain is "well known" to have the only true democratic system and the only system of justice truly based on fairness, as well as some of best writers in the world and the most complicated and fascinating history. The food and the weather are seen as amusing eccentricities, almost as if the British (English) had adopted these to make up for all the other good qualities in that well-known British sense of justice. Above all, the British are enchantingly different and frequently incomprehensible. (Nobody in Eastern Europe or Russia has ever understood how and why Margaret Thatcher had been got rid of. In fact, many Russians have not bothered to find out about subsequent Prime Ministers.) On a recent visit to Hungary I was told firmly by a translator of British and American films that Britain was not and could not in any sense be called European. It is different. It follows its own star. (To which one can reply: if only.)
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was the British who were perceived as the "can do" people. This perception, so different from the "whinging poms" of Australia, was greatly enhanced by Britain's role in the war and by the fact that in the dark post-war years she remained a shining beacon of what politics and society could be like (though not, it was sorrowfully admitted, for lesser mortals).
Whether British decency was the cause or the result of her non-involvement in Europe was not very important. What mattered was the fact that both existed. The Russians still say, when someone argues too vehemently about the need for a proper legal system or democratic accountability: "What are you going on about? This isn't England, you know." The word "gentleman" has entered every language and is much savoured by those who think they understand what it means. For the Continentals the implication has little to do with class.
My family was peculiarly anglophile. My Russian mother had studied English at the University of Moscow and later enthused to English friends like Kingsley Amis about Anglo-Saxon poetry. My father, a Hungarian, born and brought up in the Soviet Union, had miraculously kept his perfect knowledge of English, learnt in the two years at the Russells' famous Beacon Hill School, when his father was at Arcos, the Soviet Trade Delegation of ill memory. Through the subsequent upheavals, the purges, in which his own father and the fathers of many of his friends disappeared, the hardship of the war (hardships in the Soviet Union were always so much harder than anywhere else), marriage, family, his own imprisonment in the second lot of Stalinist purges, the turbulent years in Hungary, his lodestar remained Britain. He knew that with an obsessive certainty that one day he would get back there.
It is not, therefore, surprising that I was brought up as a confirmed anglophile. I read English books, though in translation, watched British films whenever I could, learned about the Civil War and the British Parliament and thought that all of England looked like Constable's paintings. I knew about the House of Commons and the House of Lords and about trial by jury. When, still in Hungary, we heard about the Profumo scandal, I was told in hushed tones about the fact that the Secretary for Defence had lied to Parliament. It seemed unspeakably shocking, like a sacrilege.
Yet the interesting thing was that we were surrounded by people whose anglophilia may not have been as intense as ours but was, nevertheless, very obvious. When we had our flat in Budapest redecorated my father hired two of the men who used to lounge round the local drinking establishment, picking up casual work, to help move the hundreds of books. They walked in and stood overawed by the piles of books. Then one of them saw a pictorial biography of Churchill on top of one of the piles —and nudged his mate. "Churchill."—he said, clicking his tongue with approval. "What a great man!" — agreed the other enthusiastically. This, coming from men who would probably be described as lumpen proletariat in a country that had actually, though somewhat reluctantly, been among Britain's enemies in the Second World War, did not strike any of us as odd. Everybody knew that Churchill was the greatest living man just as everyone knew that Britain was the best and freest country in the world. (My father was considered to be somewhat eccentric because he admired de Gaulle as well.) A popular Hungarian joke (an art form all of its own) told about a Hungarian visiting a chum of his who had emigrated to Britain some years previously—perhaps the late forties or, even, 1956. The émigré shows off his house, his children, his business. Everything is flourishing, he is doing well, his children are doing well, his marriage is very happy, yet he is not. Under intensive questioning from his visiting friend he confesses the source of his sorrow: "Can a Briton"—he asks miserably in Hungarian,—"be happy without India?" Like all East European jokes it would evoke understanding nods as well as laughter.
It was disappointing, therefore, to find, when we finally arrived in Britain, after some adventures, in the mid- sixties, that there was one country in the world that did not find Britain and the British impressive—Britain herself. While we looked longingly and admiringly towards this island, the people here were going through agonizing self-doubt, which manifested itself in two ways. The most obvious was a criticism, an undermining of everything valuable, a desire to change everything that was peculiarly British. But at the same time I detected, even as a schoolgirl, a kind of hollow self-satisfaction, a desperate feeling of "we are still the best even if we don't know why and have no wish to find out." This was a Britain that was steadily and fearfully closing in on itself, that was afraid of anything different. By the end of the sixties it became clear that, to our horror, Britain was ready to discard its essential Britishness. This included the institutions, the love of justice and liberty, the self-confidence and openness. This development intensified in the subsequent decade and has not, despite the Thatcherite reforms, been reversed.
We discovered that industrial relations and political in-fighting were far more intense and sinister than we, on the Continent, had believed, that the economy was in a poor shape and the age-old political institutions were not highly regarded, or even properly understood. Then came the proposal to enter the Common Market, clearly intended even then to become a political union.
After our arrival my parents quickly became part of what is sometimes referred to as the "cold war intelligentsia". These were people who understood the Soviet system in its full horror and saw its menace both in military and subversive terms. Just as euroscepticism is not very trendy now, so anti-Communism was not very trendy then, yet in the same way the best writers and journalists, the clearest thinkers and most honourable politicians were on that side.
In the sometimes obsessive discussions of how Britain has found herself in her present predicament with Europe it is often said that fear of the Soviet Union drove people to support membership of the Common Market. To some extent this is true. Many people saw the EEC as another, rather inadequate, bulwark against the ever encroaching might of the USSR. There was also a fully justified but now totally incomprehensible fear of the overmighty trade unions whose top echelons had been infiltrated by members of the Communist Party. Their ultimate loyalty was ambiguous at best. On this basis, it is assumed that all those engaged in the "ideological battle" with what was then the real enemy were at the same time united in their perhaps unwilling support for Britain as a member of the EEC. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The "cold war intelligentsia" was as split as the rest of the country. Being by nature argumentative and politically minded people, they conducted endless intense discussions in print and in private. There were those of East European extraction, who saw themselves as cosmopolitans and were, therefore, all in favour of what they imagined to be the opening up of Britain. They had perceived the second of the problems but not so much the first and felt that the loss of some of the institutions was a small price to pay for a Britain that was once again outward looking if only to the Continent, the source of all inspiration to them. There were others, British and emigrés, who had despaired of post-War Britain being able to save herself. "What choice do we have?"—they said over and over again.—"Rule by Moscow or rule by Brussels?" There were, of course, many, who at that time saw the EEC as a stalwart of liberalism and free trade that would help defeat the centralizing socialist forces in this country. But against all that there were many "cold war liberals" and this category included my father, who with their finer political antennae sensed the real threat. They had no doubt that what was being planned was a political union and another layer of government, which would defeat all the good intentions of the economic liberals.
One day I was listening with my father to the World at One. There was yet another discussion about whether Britain should enter the Common Market or not. It is difficult to remember who was arguing the pro case but I am reasonably convinced that the case against was being put by the Conservative MP Angus Maude. He said very firmly that we must not enter this organization because it was inherently undemocratic. This seemed an interesting point. After all, Britain, as I have known all my life, was the home of democracy and her people were devoted to that ideal. "Well, of course it is democratic."—said whoever was arguing in favour of joining.—"All its members are democratic." This rather dishonest and misdirected answer convinced me for good that there were no political arguments in favour of Britain joining the EEC.
Some years later I tried the argument about democracy on a friend at university, who, as a law student, recognized far earlier than any of us that there was some good things to be got out of the Common Market on the personal level. She specialized in Community law at an early stage and was a stageur in Brussels at a time when few people in Britain were aware of that possibility. Faced with a discussion about democracy and the British political system she argued vehemently that it was precisely because the Community was undemocratic that Britain's membership was so essential. Britain with her long historical tradition of democracy would be able to influence developments the right way. At the time all I could say was "Why bother?". Now, many years later, my friendship with the lawyer in the past, I could say many other things. It is clear, that Gresham's Law came into its own almost immediately. Far from Britain influencing the Community, at that time a self-confident growing body, it was the insufficiently strongly defended British democracy and the British legal system that have been undermined. The faceless Commission building in Brussels, with its identical wings and corridors, which I, on my visit to my stageur friend, found grimly amusing, has triumphed over the neo-Gothic of the Westminster Parliament and Courts of Law. Yet the arguments about the need for Britain to influence EU developments are still trotted out, though the suggestion that this would advance democracy is heard more and more faintly. How could one argue that seriously? Not only has British democracy been subverted but it has become quite clear to all but the most self-deceiving of politicians that the aim of the exercise is the triumph of Community institutions. It is somewhat illogical to argue that British democracy and rule of law will triumph within the EU if in order to achieve that supposed triumph Britain must surrender her political and legal traditions.
The developments of the last ten years have made the situation more urgent. On the one hand, the integration of Western Europe has gathered pace and the last vestiges of British independence and political system are about to disappear. Indeed, we have reached a stage when the question is no longer how we can save democracy, political liberty and the rule of law but how we can restore it. (The first step should be clear enough. If you are in a hole you should, first of all, stop digging. If the destruction of Britain as an independent, democratic and law-abiding country is not what you want then you should, first of all, stop any further integration. Then start disentangling what has already been woven together.)
The second development of the last decade has been the collapse of the Communist system and the re- emergence of European countries that the West forgot about in its deliberations about a "European" future. I went back to the country of my childhood, Hungary, for the first time during the 1987 electoral campaign. Hungary had changed very little in its unconditional admiration of Britain. In fact, the feeling had strengthened as a result of the Thatcher years. Throughout Eastern Europe and even in the Soviet Union, Britain under Margaret Thatcher was once again, rightly or wrongly, perceived to be the beacon of enlightenment and liberty; the country that had taken the problems of people under Communism seriously and tried to influence events in their favour. By this time many listened to Western radio stations—the BBC by preference—and the electoral campaign was being followed, though not necessarily very closely. "Surely,"—I was told by people of varying political views,—"surely, nobody is going to vote against her." I had a hard time explaining that well, actually, yes, quite a lot of people will vote against her. I encountered polite disbelief. Of even greater interest were the assurances I received that everyone was pro-British in the Falklands War. According to all accounts the whole of Eastern Europe waited with bated breath for the British fleet to arrive at the islands and to retake them. (Though one must admit this partiality may well have been influenced by the fact that the official Soviet line was pro-Argentinian.)
My next visit was soon after the change in the regime. There was still some tension in the air, but, in general, the Hungarians, like most East Europeans, were congratulating themselves on the peaceful transition. People were aware in theory that economic hardships were coming, but few understood what would happen. There was a strong feeling that they would like help from the West, but the country they would like help from most was Britain. There was also an uneasy awareness that it would probably be Germany that would move in.
Alas, by this time, Britain did not feel herself to be in a position to help. Wrapped up in her own problems with the European Union, the country barely looked at Eastern Europe. The post-Thatcher Conservative Government showed little interest, Blair's New Labour even less. Businessmen seemed either hesitant or anxious only to make a very quick profit. Above all, as a member of the European Community, Britain was party to the shameful trade barriers that were hastily erected against the East European countries. As if to make up for it, British politicians talked loudly of the need to enlarge the EU to the east, demanding that the post-Communist countries entangle themselves in the destructive, centralized, over-regulated system that their fragile economies could not survive.
This rather sombre picture has been enlivened by some firms investing, building branches, teaching more efficient methods. Just recently I heard of a Scottish forestry expert working in Latvia to revive that country's forestry management. This, I felt, was the true British "can do" attitude that we were told about when I was a child.
Yet more is expected of Britain. It is hard for the post-Communist countries to understand that the splendid British political system, her sense of legal justice and individual freedom have been given up. How can Britain be an example to these countries, which is her rightful position? The truth is that the much admired British Parliament is no longer the supreme legislator in this country; the much admired British courts can be and are routinely overruled by the European Court of Justice and even the European Court of Human Rights, some of whose judges had been educated under the Communist system and have retained that attitude; that the much admired and envied habeas corpus is in danger of disappearing. And going deeper into the problems: how can any East European understand that an Englishman's home is no longer his castle?
That regulations that emanate from Brussels and are slyly put into law by our own government empower officials of the DTI to remove the property of businessmen, give them no redress and close down their business while leisurely investigations are made into non-existent "crimes"? Can they really understand that "free-born Britons" would voluntarily surrender their birthright in the name of spurious safety or harmonization of business and taxation? And on a different level, they cannot be expected to understand that the self-same "free-born Britons" see "nothing wrong with having identity cards". This may sound rather dramatic and even embarrassingly emotional. In self-defence I have to say that I am talking about foreigners and they do get dramatic and emotional.
It is part of the essential britishness of Britain, as perceived by outsiders, to cherish liberty and the rule of law, to go forward, accept and utilize new developments without abandoning her historical heritage (above all her constitution that has been fought for in past centuries), to be open to other countries, to help them when needs be, to have friendly relations, to be an example to many. She cannot do so while her own institutions are being dismantled and her history is being devalued; she cannot do so until she regains her independence and her understanding of what that independence is for. National liberty and individual liberty are inextricably bound up with each other. It is clearly necessary, in the first place, to become even more ambivalent about the European Union, to the point, if necessary, of parting company with it. It is equally necessary for Britain to regain her confidence in herself and in her position in the world. Only then will the dream of the "perestroika" europhiles, paradoxically enough, be fulfilled: Britain will be an example, a beacon even, to the newly liberated former Communist states.
Liberties, Negative and Positive
Robert W. Cahn
Some forty years ago, as a lecturer in metallurgy at Birmingham University, I conducted a group of British undergraduates around a selection of European factories and research laboratories. One port of call was the newly established European Coal and Steel Community building in Luxembourg… the first, faint, precursor of today's colossus in Brussels. I chose that visit myself, to the mystification of the students, who refused to take an interest in this shiny edifice and the people in it; I think they saw the occasion as a piece of agitprop forced upon them and they resented it. Their unexpected reaction gave me pause; it was the first time that I sensed a hint of danger from what looked at the time to be an innocent enterprise.
I had better start out by explaining how I came to be conducting this tour. Born to a Jewish family in Bavaria in 1924, I was spirited out of Germany in the summer of 1933. My parents had seen how I had been mistreated in my primary school (and that was nothing at all to what was to come later in Germany) and unlike most other German Jews, they had the extraordinary courage to leave so early, and migrate from considerable affluence into near poverty abroad. For complicated family reasons, I spent 3 years at an American school in Spain, learnt English and then, caught in the savagery of the Spanish civil war, my mother had to flee again with my sister and me. I joined my father, who was already in England, in 1936. Allowing for little problems like the Spanish debacle, I was still luckier than the great majority of German Jews.
My response to the English language in 1933, at the age of nine, was just like that of a notable historian, Peter Fröhlich, also a German Jew, who became Peter Gay when his family moved to America. In a recent moving essay in The American Scholar, he has this to say of his first encounter with the English language in 1937, while still living in Germany: "I took to it as though it were my mother tongue that I had mysteriously forgotten, as through a sudden amnesia… and was reclaiming with remarkable speed. I fell in love with the language and came to regard it as an incomparable vehicle for expressiveness. I still do, and take the many pages I have written in English as so many tributes to what I call my adopted first language." It would be impossible to express this better — and, although I speak several European languages competently, I don't think I could express such a sentiment anything like as convincingly in any of them.
I still recall an overheated essay I wrote for the German paper in my School Certificate examination (the precursor to O-levels), about what England had come to mean to me in two short years living here; rather different, I expect, from the general run of School Cert essays. As I recall, I wrote it in the language of Sturm und Drang, but it was certainly written from the heart. I still recall the overwhelming sense of freedom that I experienced, and that I sought to communicate in that essay.
Later, as a sixth-former in the opening stages of the War, in the middle of the Blitz, I was exposed to a young zealot who sought to convince me that there was no future for a Jew living in England, that assimilation was a pipedream and that I must prepare to emigrate to a future state of Israel. I had experienced no antisemitism up to then (and indeed, in more than sixty years, England has subjected me only to a few trivial instances of that vice) and, detesting overt propaganda even as a schoolboy, I disregarded the pressure. I am by no means anti-Zionist, but am a deeply convinced Englishman, and when in 1947 H.M. Government agreed to grant me the status of a British subject, a dream had come true. Ever so often, I recall the oath of allegiance that I swore to King George and to his heirs—it was no mere form of words to me—and have come to wonder how I can keep that oath if the Queen should cease to be our head of state because the United Kingdom ceases to be a state. (The fact that in two sentences, I have referred to "Englishman", "British subject" and "United Kingdom" shows how hard it has become to find the right language for what we now are). Somehow, I cannot quite see myself transferring the import of that oath to a future Euro- President Schröder, Jospin or Aznar, let alone Santer. Yet what was not even on the horizon 40 years ago, during that curious visit to Luxembourg, has now acquired the attribute of a Tolstoyan inevitability. If there is one thing that is antipathetic to the British political genius, it is a conviction of inevitability. It took another immigrant historian-philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin, to make that crystal-clear.
I spent two years, towards the end of my professional career, as a professor (= civil servant) in Paris, and know from firsthand experience the profound difference between the ideals and practice of the British and the French governing classes. I also know, from the experience of a relative who has worked for some years in the Commission in Brussels, that the structure and working practices of that organization have been determined by French civil servants and politicians. The Germans may have been the paymasters—up to now—but the French set the political tone. Of all the curiosities that I saw during my time in France, the oddest (and it is unknown in this country) is the concept of the Derogation: this is a formal permission, granted by a civil servant, for a few citizens (in competition with each other for this purpose) to break a particular French law with impunity.
When I lived in Paris, I read the French press assiduously and was struck how little the Assemblé Nationale featured on the news pages. This may be partly because so much of ministerial decision-making in France emerges as "decrees", bypassing parliamentary approval. This, no doubt, is at the origin of the single aspect of the European Union that most upsets me… the prevalence of "directives". The very word, and certainly the concept it denotes, is profoundly un-British. Yet a steady stream of directives has poured forth from the Council of Ministers in Brussels on the exclusive initiative of the Commission, and the only task the Westminster Parliament has in this connection is to pass each directive into law. Debate is usually irrelevant, as it so often is in France, too. I worry about the prospect that a French civil servant might in future offer one of his fellowcitizens a derogation from some French law or decree enacted in response to a directive from Brussels; I am told that this would never be tolerated by the Commission… but would they ever find out, I wonder?
Let me return for a moment to the theme of historical inevitability. There is a linkage between the resolute attempt by many of our political and administrative leaders to present the issue of Britain's relation to the European Union as an exclusively economic matter (to be judged by purely economic criteria) and the attempt to persuade the British electorate that our joining the currency union is an inevitable development. The moment that the matter is examined as a constitutional watershed, inevitability goes out of the window. Recent propaganda from Brussels has set out the creation of a federal European state as a necessary corollary of a common currency; a common currency cannot work, we are told, unless the nations of Europe give up much of their separate identity. And that is, of course, true. What we are not told is that the common currency was only dreamed up to enable Brussels to push Europe into a federal state—the federal state is not being called for as a surprising necessity following currency union. I often wonder whether some of my students on that visit to Luxembourg already sensed this.
Perhaps the dishonest disguise of currency union as an economic engine rather than as a locomotive towards political union is not all there is to it. Europhiles often tell us that the common currency offers British ministers a means to "exert influence", to "punch beyond their weight", and other metaphors of that kind. The answer to that argument is to remember Isaiah Berlin's distinction between negative and positive liberty. What some of our elite are urging us towards is to give them the opportunity to join in the design of a state which will force us all to live in a particular way (presumably closely resembling the French polity); that is Isaiah Berlin's 'positive liberty'. What I sensed in Britain even as a schoolboy without a vote was the prevalence of 'negative liberty': the presumption that we were all free to follow our own preferred mode of life so long as we did not thereby interfere with our neighbours' freedoms; and the Westminster Parliament was the guarantor of that form of liberty. The systematic downgrading by government of the Westminster Parliament in the past few years (by both conservative and socialist governments, it has to be admitted), accompanied by a drop in press coverage of its proceedings (except for an occasional sardonic 'diary-style' caricature) shows that our masters prefer positive liberty—which maximises their own role—to negative liberty, which maximises the freedom of the ordinary citizen. I really am not interested in ministers' (and civil servants') influence in Brussels—or in Paris, or in Bonn; what I care about is my right to determine my own mode of life, and the corresponding right of my fellow-citizens to do the same.
Leaving aside the disguised fact that the common currency is really a means to make federal union "inevitable", it is also explicitly presented as a means to strengthen the economic performance of the European countries. At the heart of this is a ferocious rivalry, in the eyes of the French elite primarily, with the 'Anglo-Saxon' world. A few weeks' living in Paris make this unmistakably obvious. If we were to join the common currency, and a fortiori if we were to be embroiled in a federal state, we would be steadily, and irresistibly, dragged into systematic economic hostility towards the United States. Political hostility would follow (I am almost tempted to say, 'inevitably'), and before long the ever-present American undercurrent of isolationism would re-emerge into the open. The British way of life (here, perhaps, I ought to call it specifically 'English') is linked, to a degree, to the American perception of it as the underpinning of being American. It is noteworthy that an American senator, in discussing something really complex like impeachment procedures, as a matter of course quotes Chaucer and Shakespeare in his support. Things have changed a great deal since Lafayette was a hero of the American Revolution; and clearly, the French elite backed the American rebels because they were rebelling against the British. Once the British made their peace with the new American government, in the early 19th century, the French cooled. The American government will never quote La Rochefoucauld, or for that matter Machiavelli, when they are trying to puzzle out what to do; although some of the present institutions in Brussels may well call forth the odd quotation from Cervantes! But we might be forced to abandon Shakespeare for La Rochefoucauld once we are part of a federal European polity, and perhaps we shall have to refer to Robespierre rather than to Edmund Burke when we need to appeal to a historical exemplar. The mind boggles.
Those who think as I do are usually termed 'eurosceptics'; sometimes we tremble at this designation and fear that it is synonymous with 'europhobe'. But it is not: 'sceptic' comes from the Greek for 'to think', and I see no reason to apologise for taking thought. What is worrying (if indeed it is true) is that so many of our fellow-citizens are said to regard the issue of the common currency (and indeed the issue of our membership of the EU itself) as a purely economic matter, to be judged on exclusively economic criteria… and that if early experience of the operation of the common currency proves not to be catastrophic, we should draw the correct conclusion and join it. At the risk of being seen to be repeating a tired metaphor, I cannot think of any better way of describing such an attitude than to call it, in biblical terms, "selling one's birthright for a mess of pottage". It goes further even than that for people like myself who were admitted to Britain's hospitable shores long ago. The British concept of liberty is not a birthright for us… rather, it is a right acquired by long residence and steadfast loyalty, sealed by an oath of allegiance. If it is indeed true that adopting the euro means, 'inevitably', adopting a federal constitution, then the arguments which should decide whether or not we individually vote for this course of action should be wholly political and not at all economic. This is especially true for those of us who have had close experience in our childhoods of other polities. I would rather live in relative poverty, but in freedom, with an effective parliament in place, than in (predicted) affluence as a near-slave, with my acquired birthright sold by my governors in exchange for their influence in distant places.
A key test of the primacy of political over economic considerations is to see what the Swiss will do. Up till now, the German-speaking Swiss have kept to their very fierce devotion to political liberty and scotched their financial elite's attempts (backed by the French-speaking Swiss) to drive them into the European Union. It seems that these attempts are starting up again. If even the independent Swiss are persuaded into joining a European state, then I would judge that our cause has become hopeless. We shall see.
I have just referred to 'voting'. If the present government is re-elected in 2002 and it then seems unlikely that it can win such a referendum for joining the common currency, we may see a repeat of what happened in Denmark a few years ago, and see a repeat referendum called when the eurosceptic camp has run out of resources. We may eventually be driven to the point where the only means left for the eurosceptic camp is demonstration in the streets. Unfortunately, we don't grow artichokes in this country; there is nothing more effective in blocking a highway. De Gaulle once remarked that he could not really hope to govern a country with 264 (or whatever the number was) different kinds of cheese. In Britain, we have a large number of different kinds of apple...
Civis Britannicus Sum
"It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness."
Although each man is born naked, he arrives with a vast inheritance, often in the form of baggage. Those of a mixed cultural background have a larger wardrobe with which to clothe their identity. The cultural choices they make are therefore rather more personal. First and foremost, I consider myself British. English, Arab, Swiss, and even European are all conflicting labels I can apply to myself in part. And in part is the problem with them—they are far too narrow and limiting. The word British on the other hand has notions of a civic model of inclusion. What holds society together is not common religion, race, ethnicity, language or even culture, but common attachment to the rule of law and to the idea that we are all rights-bearing equals. Admittedly it is a romantic idea used to get the Empire to pull together in two World Wars, but the idea is still there all the same.
When my parents arrived in this country it was still basking in the glow of its Imperial past. Forty years on they feel somewhat short changed. Many of the old certainties have been challenged through membership of the European Union, and a world-weary media.
Since the break up of the USSR and the Eastern Europe bloc, the communist threat is no longer a point of unifying reference in the political landscape.
This poses problems for the supporters of ever closer union, for in order for the EU to function as a successful political entity its members need a common sense of self. The surest way to do this is to have common enemies. Europe is cast as the heroic defender against American globalization, an island of social justice besieged by the cut-throats of free enterprise, and a bastion of enlightened Christian values in conflict with the oppressive Muslim hordes of the East.
Earlier forms of ethnic, religious and national identifications are also re-emerging. Success for the EU relies on forging common European myths, symbols, values and memories. Hence the emphasis on a common European cultural heritage by the European political elite. Education and official ideology is urging us to turn our eyes inward, irrespective of trends towards globalization.
The line separating us from them is reverting to that of Western Christendom on the one hand, and Muslim and Orthodox peoples on the other—a line that dates back to the Holy Roman Empire. Christian Democrats, who sided with the Church in the disputes between Church and State in days of yesteryear, dominate EU politics. The break up of Yugoslavia in 1991 was defined by Germany's support for Catholic Crotia as opposed to Muslim Bosnia, or Orthodox Serbia. Despite Turkey's membership of Nato and its pro-western stance in the Gulf War full membership of the EU continues to remain only a distant possibility. Europe's identification with Western Christendom does however provide a clear criterion for EU membership, which the British supporters of European integration have found cosily attractive. Thus, Britain's referendum decision to stay in the Common Market was won principally on the grounds that Europe needed to club together to stave off the economic threat from the Japanese, the Americans and those fiendish Arab oil sheikhs, all of whom were perceived to be squeezing the life out of Britain in the seventies.
Even worse than the concern with its own uniformity is the fact that the European Union systematically discriminates against the countries from which many Britons originate. In effect a fortress Europe has been created in terms of the trading of agricultural and textile products within the European Union. High tariff and regulatory barriers have been erected against the very production upon which many third world countries depend.
In trying to forge a European identity the political elites have alienated vast swathes of the nation's ethnic communities and have marginalised our cultural links with the rest of the world. Many of the ethnic communities have become an all too visible reminder of an unfashionable past, or an exotic ingredient of the global village. It is all too easy to forget that there were more Muslims than Christians in the British Empire, and that over 1,500,000 Indians were mobilised during the Second World War.
We all like diversity and the EU's active support of a Europe of Regions may seem superficially like a good thing; but it not only undermines the national governments in Europe, it forces people into narrow interest groups based on ethnicity and culture. The black and Asian communities in Britain are not being asked about what they feel about British devolution. They resent the way the country is now described as consisting of four nations when it is one nation made up of over 70 ethnically identifiable communities.
It took 50 years for these communities to describe themselves as British, and of belonging. British as a term has become so deflated that it is becoming flabby and meaningless. Political correctness and striving to be a good European have not helped.
Ethnic groups are now resisting marginalization within host societies by reasserting vigorously their differences, none of which promotes understanding or tolerance.
If Europe continues to be defined by a common aversion to its neighbours, the implications need to be considered very carefully. If the price to be paid is to make every non-Christian and foreign resident in the Community feel that he or she is at best a tolerated alien, whose country of origin is a potential threat to Europe and its ideals, the price is too high.
The post-war world has shrunk and Britain has, ironically, become increasingly obsessed with its European backyard, rather than developing a global future which is a welcome legacy from its past.