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The True Paper

Posted by Richard Friday, September 10, 2004

Yes, dear reader, that is the name of Michael Ancram's counter blast to the White Paper on the EU constitution, subtitled "The truth about the European constitution". If you haven’t already done so, you can download it from the Conservative Party website.

I do wish he hadn't called it the "true" paper. Such is the general (lack of) regard for politicians – shared, I have to admit, by this Blog – that the moment any of this breed start talking about the truth, we automatically count the silverware.

Anyhow, in reflecting our new determination to be fair and objective, one has to say that this 28-page document is, like the curate’s proverbial egg, good in parts. The first four paragraphs (one only a line long) are, in fact, quite good. But then it starts to go downhill – and keeps going.

Ancram's problem, like many of his ilk, is that he can't seem to make up his mind whether he is talking about "Europe" or the "European Union". He frequently confuses the two terms, and uses them interchangeably. Only sometimes he doesn't. Sometime he uses "Europe" to mean Europe, so the reader is constantly having to decipher his meaning.

But the intellectual confusion reflects the confusion of the soul. One can just about stay with him when he writes "As Conservatives we have always supported a democratic, well-ordered and prosperous Europe" – a sort of vague generalisation with which it would be hard to take exception.

We stay with him when he rejects the "absurd charge" that we (the Conservatives, that is) are somehow "anti-Europeans". When he states that "it is accepted that tomorrow's European Union needs clearer and more intelligible rules", one has to accept that he is entitled to his opinion.

And the final premise of his introduction is basically sound. Writing of the prospect of achieving change in the EU, and asking rhetorically whether changes can be achieved, he answers:

Yes they can. If we reject the proposed constitution then all the member states will have to think again – and many will probably welcome the chance to do so. The pathway will be open for a constructive renegotiation of the European treaties and rules, and for re-shaping the EU on altered and more up-to-date lines.
If we concede a certain coherence to the discourse so far, however, Ancram then loses it. "The EU has played a major role in bringing the peoples of Europe together and banishing century-old conflicts", he writes in his Chapter 1, repeating the tired old myth. And then for another squadge of wiffle:

The essential challenge facing the European Union today is to give back the peoples of Europe a sense of ownership over the institutions. Europe must belong to its peoples and work for its peoples, not the political elites. A bigger Union must not be a more distant one.
Why does he waste our time with this garbage? Who are these "peoples of Europe"? When did they ever have a "sense of ownership" over the institutions? How possibly can "Europe" belong to its peoples? And, strictly speaking, if the "Union" is bigger, it must – at least geographically – be more distant for some of its "peoples".

We then get some knockabout stuff about who did and who didn't want a constitution, and what it all means – fair enough in the context – but, all too soon, we come back to the wiffle.

This referendum, when it comes, will be crucial to the future of the United Kingdom. It will decide whether we can remain a sovereign nation in a European partnership of sovereign nations or whether we will take that irretrievable step through the gateway towards a country called Europe.
This is the Conservative pitch, writ large. Up until now, the EU is "a European partnership of sovereign nations" – all good. Under Labour, via the constitution, it becomes "a country called Europe" – all bad. "The Conservative Party will fight for our country and our sovereignty and in so doing will speak with the genuine voice of the British people".

You can see what Ancram is doing, and you can even understand why he is doing it - but it is unconvincing. Yet he continues on, reinforcing how the EU is good for Britain – jobs, peace, and all that – exactly the same message as Blair. Only the constitution is wrong – only the constitution should be opposed. And, within all that comes the constant refrain – the Single Market, that Holy Grail of the soft Europhiles, must be preserved.

One begins to weary. "We want to build a flexible Europe", writes Ancram. Er… so does Tony. First we have bendy busses, and now he wants a bendy Europe. The EU should be more accountable and more efficient. More? When has it ever been accountable? What does Ancram mean by "efficient". As my colleague points out, the trouble is that the EU is too bloody efficient (although, being a lady, she didn’t say "bloody").

Then it gets too much, and I've only got to page 10. "Free markets and free trade should be reaffirmed as central Treaty objectives". Sorry, Mr Ancram. The EU is not about free trade… never has been. IT IS A CUSTOMS UNION. Read the bloody myth.

On the Conservative Party website, Ancram complains that "the Blair Government is about to embark on another spin mission designed to deceive the people of Britain about the proposed EU Constitution". Mote and beam, I think. Labour spin, bad - Conservative spin, good?