Sunday, September 19, 2004

The ignorant Mr Blair

On the same day that The Sunday Telegraph front page headline proclaims that the "Queen is 'exasperated by Blair's ignorance of countryside'" the Sunday Times review section has serialised Derek Scott’s new book "Off Whitehall".

This former economics advisor to Blair is the first to break ranks and write an insider's view of No. 10. This excerpt, entitled "Blair's blind passion for the euro high life", is highly revealing, not least because, on "Europe", Scott comes to the same conclusion about Blair and the European Union as does the Queen in relation to Blair and the countryside.

Writes Scott:

Tony Blair... is absolutely convinced of the political case for entering Emu and feels more at ease with the politics than the economics.

When I was his economic adviser at No 10 for six years, all his major speeches on Europe reflected this priority. Economic advice was normally surplus to his requirements on these occasions. After a few failed attempts to clarify some of the assertions made in these speeches, I gave it up as a waste of time.

I do not think that his concerns about the economics of Emu reflect a genuine grasp of the issues involved. Rather they are based on a political calculation that, unless the semblance of an economic case can be sold, it will be impossible to persuade the electorate of the purported political advantages.

At some stage all prime ministers become concerned with their place in history and there is little doubt that for Tony Blair this involves fulfilling his vision of Britain’s position in Europe. Yet, although conscious of the judgment of history, Tony remained surprisingly unaware of the political history of Europe or the failings of earlier attempts at monetary integration. At times,
he appeared unaware of the most basic history of the European Union.

When he arrived at No 10, as he admitted himself, he had been too busy reforming the Labour party to engage in serious thought on Europe. He had read little British or European history and had shown little interest in the forces and motives that forged post-war Europe or Britain’s position in it.

I simply didn’t recognise his descriptions of Europe or Britain’s contemporary position in it. And I found his basic political argument, that adopting the euro would increase Britain’s political influence in Europe, wholly unconvincing since membership would sap Britain’s economic strength, which is a key determinant of political influence in the EU.
What we find particularly damning is that telling passage: "He had read little British or European history and had shown little interest in the forces and motives that forged post-war Europe or Britain’s position in it. I simply didn’t recognise his descriptions of Europe or Britain’s contemporary position in it".

And this is the man who thinks the EU constitution represents "a good deal for Britain". God help us.

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