26 September 2011

Peter Oborne and the 'Guilty Men'

On 22 September David Cameron told the Canadian Parliament that “… the problems in the Eurozone are now so big that they have begun to threaten the stability of the world economy.” Earlier in the month, George Osborne, according to the Daily Telegraph, had concluded that a replacement for the Lisbon Treaty would:
be in place by 2013, on top of a minor amendment to create a permanent bail-out fund later this year. "I think it is on the cards that there may be a treaty change imposed in the next year or two, beyond what has already been proposed," said the Chancellor. "This would be for the eurozone, this would be to further integrate the eurozone, further strengthen fiscal integration."
Like the other EU states, the UK would have to endorse a new Treaty and the process of doing so could prove challenging for the Coalition. Some Tories would rather that the UK left altogether, while others would expect concessions in our favour in return for agreement. Either approach would dismay most LibDems. It is therefore not entirely surprising that the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS, a right-wing think tank founded in 1974 by Keith Joseph with support from Margaret Thatcher) published on 23 September a report by Peter Oborne and Frances Weaver, Guilty Men, which ‘details how the political class sought to tie the fortunes of the British to the Euro.’ Coincidentally, the next day Lady Thatcher made a rare public appearance at Liam Fox’s 50th birthday party.

Oborne is an incisive journalist who has also made controversial documentaries for Channel 4 Dispatches, including on 4 October last year, Tabloids, Tories and Phone Tapping. His latest, due on 26 September, The Wonderful World of Tony Blair, may also cause a stir.

In Guilty Men Oborne directs his polemic at the institutions which he sees as having pushed British membership of the eurozone.  At the same time they often made unscrupulous attacks on anyone who was opposing what is now clearly seen as a disaster which the UK was lucky to avoid. Particularly in his sights are the BBC, the FT (with some distinguished exceptions among its columnists), and the CBI. He is also unsparing of many of his fellow members of the commentariat, some of whom, like Andrew Rawnsley and David Aaronovitch, are still unashamedly opining on major issues of the day. Oborne is fair enough to allow that ‘there is no question that [Gordon Brown’s] opposition from inside government was an essential factor in keeping Britain out of the single currency.

Oborne and Weaver confine their paper to the euro and avoid the wider issue of the UK’s membership of the EU. But Peter Jay in his lengthy Foreword lays the issue firmly on the table. In particular, he gives vent to some of the most Francophobic remarks that I have read for some time, and which I will quote as a foil to the Francophilia some might think implicit in this blog:
Looking back [in 1945] we felt deep pride in the achievements of the long struggle – from the defeat of the Armada by way of Marlborough’s defeats of Louis XIV’s armies, Chatham’s strategy in India and North America, Nelson’s and Wellington’s defeats of Napoleon and Churchill’s defiance of Hitler – to preserve that independence in the face of threats to create a continent-wide despotism on the European mainland and to impose its power on Britain.

I met [the great French diplomat and technocrat, Jean Monnet] at a small lunch in 1952 in Paris hosted by William Hayter of the British Embassy for my father, then a member of the Labour Opposition’s front bench Treasury team. I was 15 and kept my mouth shut, but my ears open. I have never forgotten v what I heard. For, it was the truth about the European strategy which he had devised and sold to French political leaders.
France was humiliated by the fact that its representatives were no longer treated by other nations in the way they once had been. Only super-power diplomats were taken seriously. To recover this prestige and standing France must become a superpower like America and Russia with a continental economy to support a continental industrial production and tax base sufficient to deploy or threaten the military might that alone delivers diplomatic weight.  
Europe must be welded into such an instrument, by implication, though this was not spelt out, to be dominated and guided by the especially civilised leaders and diplomats which France alone could produce

It was a direct route back to that world, but under a new flag, that of “Europe” (whether or not Greater France would have been a more candid name). It was Bonapartist, even if with a twentieth century face.

To a Euro-nationalist (otherwise a French Third Empire-builder such as Valéry Giscard D’Estaing) to admit Turkey [to the EU] would be a dangerous dilution of the purity and cohesion, and therefore the strength, of Europe as an ethnically, religiously, geographically and culturally homogeneous political actor and as a new power in the world.

Despite the accident of the horse-shoe model of the French constituent assembly in 1789 at Louis XVI’s Versailles whence the terms left and right derive, there is absolutely no objective basis for arranging political choice along this one-dimensional spectrum. Still less is there any reason to regard support for “Europe” – more especially a Europe modelled on the Bonapartist tradition – as in any sense a centrist or moderate position.

My only complaint was that neither of [the two greatest economic journalists of this time, Sir Samuel Brittan and Martin Wolf at the Financial Times] fully saw that it was the very dysfunctionality of the Euro which was its chief attraction to the Bonapartists. They could safely rely upon it to cause the periodic acute crises which then supplied the political context for the next great leap forward in Eurocentralisation, edging ever closer to one country, be it Third Empire or Fourth Reich, enshrining Monnet’s City on the hill from which French diplomats could go forth with German cheque books in their baggage to strut their hour upon the world stage.
and for the sort of people who have vines as Backgrounds to their blog:
The groups who have most particularly betrayed Britain’s independence and support for a multinational shared management of our real global problems in favour of merging Britain into an old-fashioned power-seeking country called “Europe” have been mainly motivated by muddled thinking and immature sentiment. The number of people who in their early youth just thought of Europe as a nice place for culture, sunshine, wine and skiing and made this the foundation of their view of the political and economic architecture being imposed on the UK is pathetic and shocking.
Ouch – but I don’t really agree with Jay. French politicians of his age (74) - Giscard D’Estaing, amazingly, is 85 - or more or less of the same generation, like Dominique Strauss-Kahn (62) may think as chauvinistically as he alleges, but from my limited knowledge, younger people in France, inside and outside politics, are as aware of the challenges from China, Brazil, India etc as their contemporaries in the UK. What Jay doesn’t address is how countries of the size of France and the UK could fit into the world order, if not as part of a weightier grouping like the EU.  Dominique de Villepin (former French Prime Minister, 57) addresses just that issue in his Notre Vieux Pays, published in France last month. My French isn’t good enough to do it justice, but he obviously realises the challenges posed to the French values by globalisation, de-industrialisation, l’iPad etc – I’m not sure he has any solutions. No mention, as far as I could see, of how les anglais are having to deal with similar problems!

Osborne and Weaver state that ‘The title of this short work – Guilty Men – is drawn from the book written in the summer of 1940 as Britain awaited Nazi attack in the wake of Dunkirk. The intention of that famous book was to call to account the architects of the policy of appeasement who had betrayed the people of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.'

Their analogy is possibly a little over the top. The UK may have mistakenly pursued appeasement in the 1930s but we didn’t join the euro in the 2000s.  The indicted in the first Guilty Men included Baldwin and Chamberlain, but as Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1930s they were instigators, albeit reluctantly, of the rearmament programmes which began in 1934 (touched on in my ‘aerodrome’ post in August).  Historians will probably debate for ever whether Chamberlain (by then Prime Minister) was right to make an agreement with Hitler at Munich.  One uncertainty seems to be the extent to which the UK would have been able to rely on France, in particular its army in confronting the Nazis in 1938.  The French military capabilities on air and land were little improved by 1940, whereas the RAF had been substantially strengthened in the same period.

Still, Osborne has a history degree so presumably is confident about the grounds for the parallel he is making.  The matrix diagrams below try to show how difficult it is, however the columns and rows are arranged, to draw coherent comparisons between Mosley and New Europe (as was attempted - see Oborne and Weaver, page 22) or for the Europhobes to lay claim to Churchill as one of theirs.

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