Saturday, September 25, 2004

The real enemy

One of the few advantages of having satellite television is that we can watch endless re-runs of MASH – about the only thing worth watching on television these days.

From that programme recently, very much belonging to the school of "many a true word spoken in jest", came an episode recently where our two heroes, Hawkeye and BJ, were sheltering a North Korean soldier – who also happened to be a doctor – by disguising him as a South Korean officer.

Trying to explain what they were doing to the company clerk, Radar, they whispered to him that the new man was in fact the "enemy", only to be met with puzzlement. Hawkeye and BJ were forced to explain laboriously that the man was North Korean. "Oh", says Radar, "I thought you meant the real enemy – Supply Corps".

Such is the case in real life, where the real enemies so often appear to be on our own side, witness the extraordinary incompetence of the North East Says No campaign and its failure to get involved in the Neil Herron's judicial review, thus watering down the impact of a major initiative against the ODPM.

Yet the unrepentant NESNO is now suggesting that Neil Herron, in order to get its support, should have made an appointment to see one of its representatives in Durham, discussed the case with them and left the papers for their board to consider and make a decision.

That he was supposed to do, in addition to preparing the case papers for the judicial review with a lawyer in London, against a 48-hour deadline, with the writ drawn up only hours before it had to be served.

That our own side has the potential to do more harm than good is also the very great danger with the self-appointed "Vote No" campaign which, in unnecessarily proclaiming its support for our continued membership of the EU, risks splitting the Eurosceptic movement down the middle – as NESNO has by launching a rival bid for official designation – and weakening the overall campaign against the constitution.

But the other "enemy" - if the traffic on the Eurosceptic discussion groups this morning is any indication - is fast becoming UKIP. Topic of the morning was the "unadulterated drivel" uttered by deputy leader of UKIP, Mike Nattrass, and faithfully conveyed by the Guardian.

Nattrass apparently claimed in a debate sponsored by the Institute of Citizenship that Britain might have to fight its way out of Europe in the same way that Chechyna was fighting to free itself from Russia. "We are entering a federal trap", he is reported to have said.

The constitution is a federal trap and once signed we cannot get out. In the same way that Chechnya is part of the Soviet Union, we are being dragged into the European Union. I hope we never have to fight our way out ... It will be like the Chechnya situation because the Russians won't let the Chechens out.
Observed the Guardian, with an untypically British understatement, such comments "will raise questions about the politics and judgment of some of the senior figures in the party."

By contrast, The Telegraph, once it could tear itself away from the lovely Nancy Dell’Olio, profiles Sir Stephen Wall, foreign office mandarin, Europhile extraordinaire and advisor to both John Major and Tony Blair.

Urbane, intellectual, cultured, multi-lingual and all that, the man is the very antithesis of the ranting Nattrass – to say nothing of the brawling bore Bloom – and if the EU issue were to be judged on personalities alone, Wall would have it.

His complaint is that he feels "let down by Blair on Europe", having left Blair’s side a disillusioned man for a post advising Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster.

Writes interviewer, Toby Helm, "his relationship with the Prime Minister appears to have been very professional but also very cool" and, as the relationship developed, "he increasingly suspected that Mr Blair, shackled by the ever more euro-sceptic Gordon Brown, would not deliver on his promise to promote the case for positive engagement in the European Union."

As early as 1995, when he was ambassador to the EU in Brussels, Sir Stephen was convinced that New Labour's obsession with keeping the sceptic media sweet could never co-exist with a bold pro-European policy. "I thought then, when I read that Tony Blair was going off to Australia to secure the support of Rupert Murdoch, that this is going to put the kibosh on European policy," he says. "Maintaining the support of the Murdoch press is obviously very critical to Labour's interest - or that is how it seemed. I do regret that with the most massive majority in post-war history that we couldn't have done more to turn it round."
The turning point, it seems was when Blair decided to over-rule him and most of his other Downing Street advisers by agreeing to grant a referendum on the European constitution. Sir Stephen felt that the treaty would not fundamentally change the way Britain was governed and agreeing to a referendum was an insanely high-risk strategy for a pro-European Prime Minister. "It was a demoralising moment."

Sir Stephen remains highly critical of Mr Blair for failing to make the case for Europe consistently enough. While John Major had ample excuse - with a majority of just 20 and a rebel army of euro-sceptics in his own party - the same defence could not be made for the current Prime Minister. "This Government wasn't in that position. It had a massive majority, and yet the case for Europe hasn't been made." And, if the Government wants to win the referendum, "every single senior minister has got to be out there making the positive case," he says.

But Wall's real enemy is Gordon Brown, whom he condemns for making "fatuous" and "gratuitous" attacks on Brussels that cause severe damage to relations with the EU. To Wall, Brown's behaviour is "loopy", a point picked out in the Telegraph’s main (and virtually the only) front page story.

Partly making up for its decision to abandon its role as a newspaper, the Telegraph then puts Wall’s comments in perspective, with a leader headed: "Too much democracy – a mandarin's lament" in which it offers mock sympathy for those "sincere Europhiles" such as Stephen Wall.

For many years, it writes, these well-bred, well-meaning and in some ways visionary people waged their lonely campaign against public opinion. Then, to their unfeigned delight, Tony Blair was elected, the first prime minister since Edward Heath who seemed willing to advance their agenda… But, nearly eight years on, Mr Blair's majority has been squandered, his promise broken. No wonder the pro-Europeans sound so crotchety these days: they can see things slipping away from them.

Noting that the issue over which Sir Stephen and Mr Blair fell out was the referendum on the EU constitution, the leader continues:

Sir Stephen, true to the values of his caste, vigorously opposed the idea of consulting the public. He well understands that the EU would never have got where it is today if each new treaty had been referred to the voters for approval. He can see that people will probably vote "no" to the constitution - not only because of what they read in that document, but also as a surrogate verdict on 30 years of transfers of power to Brussels. For him, as for other Euro-enthusiasts, that is reason enough for not asking them. The EU, as it exists, is the creation of men like Sir Stephen: a bureaucratic construct with little room for democracy. That has been the objection all along.
And that has been the objection – the lack of democracy. Strangely, it is democracy, warts and all, that allows Nattrass and his likes to rant away with their absurd messages, but it is also democracy which allows us to ignore them, and make up our own minds what we want. Sir Stephen Wall would not allow us that privilege.

Nor, indeed would the egregious Mr Brown if it suited him. He is clearly playing his own game in his internal battle with his arch-rival Tony Blair, so it would be unwise to cast him in the role of a friend. One is ever conscious of the role of James Callaghan in the 1975 referendum who, as the token Eurosceptic in Wilson’s cabinet, made a last-minute Damascene conversion to the cause, pulling many doubters into the "yes" camp.

But, if Brown is not our friend, the ones to watch are the cultured Sir Stephen Wall and his ilk, the ranks of fonctionnaires who believe in the managerial concept of government and who regard democracy, at best, as an irritation and generally as an impediment to their plans. While we may be irritated and occasionally appalled by the behaviour of our allies (and doubtless will continue to be), it is as well, occasionally, to remember who the real enemies are.

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