Issue 200 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 1996 Copyright Socialist Review

Stack on the back

Pat Stack

While the majority undoubtedly see the only hope for the future of a declining British capitalism being tied more closely to the European Union, a significant minority fear that such a link may accelerate the whole process of decline.

Socialist opposition to the EU is not in any way connected to these squabbles.

But I can't help wondering why the anti Europe wing of the ruling class is represented by arguments so banal as to be beneath the intellectual capacity of a slightly gifted five year old.

Of course some of the bluster and bullshit is merely there for public consumption. So when Michael Portillo did his farcical stuff about British army cap badges not being changed for ones designed by Brussels, you supposed that he knew he was talking rubbish (there were after all no such proposals coming from anyone). But he knew Mr Hangem from Sidcup, Mrs Flogem from Eastbourne and the rest of the party faithful would lap it up.

Now I'm not so sure, and the reason for my doubt centres on the intellectual giant of the Eurosceptics, John Redwood.

The businessmen's paper, the Financial Times, carries a column entitled 'Lunch with the FT', where 'top people' are wined and dined by journalists. It gave an account of a Financial Times journalist's lunch date with the world's greatest Eurosceptic, which would tend to suggest that what you see is what you get.

Remember, Redwood was not talking to some small town bigot, nor was he being interviewed by a sleazy jingoistic tabloid. No, he was talking to a serious journalist from the bosses' own house journal. So one would presume that he would raise himself to his full and legendary intellectual height for the occasion, providing all the key arguments to win over the majority of his class to his anti-European position.

Certainly he was lofty in his claims for himself. When asked why he had abandoned his career as an Oxford historian, his reply was full of the arrogance one would expect from one so great: 'Why study history when you can be making it?'

Ah yes, why indeed? So what were the mighty arguments of this great history maker? Well, to paraphrase, France is ruled by Germany, which in turn is ruled by Kohl, who is too strong to be challenged in his own country.

Ah yes, it all sounds pretty familiar: a France dominated by Germany, which in turn is ruled by an unchallengable dictator. Yes this man truly has a sense of history.

Or how about, 'This country's motor industry was undermined in the 1970s by Volkswagen, not the Chinese peasantry.'

Well, I'm glad that's cleared up. I always thought it was a monstrous piece of anti-Maoist propaganda that laid the demise of the British motor industry at the hands of the Cantonese rice pickers. As for the Volkswagen, wasn't that the car developed during the reign of Hitler? Ah yes, this man truly is a historian.

The real plot behind all this European Union talk was yet to be unveiled though, and when it was it was so blindingly obvious I wonder why we hadn't all spotted it before. But then again, we are not all 'makers of history'.

'Let me tell you one of our best Margaret's best policies. That was to wean people in Britain off the state pension system. France and Germany have committed themselves with promissory notes far beyond what they can afford in that respect We'll be bailing out the geriatric poor of Brandenburg Prussia.'

Aha, those crafty Prussians, spotting the inherent weaknesses and flaws of the German economy, are advocating a system of monetary union which will tie them into that fine healthy beast, the British economy, so that they can enjoy their twilight years in the luxury of the British welfare system.

Is there no end to Prussian cunning? Down with Brandenburg and all its wrinklies, that's what I say.

Having given us the benefit of this grand insight, Redwood then spun completely into orbit. We'd be 'losing our cricketing friends around the world'. 'Damn Bosch don't play the game, you see. He then gave the journalist a lecture on the glories of Queen Elizabeth the First of course. Her relevance and that of the Spanish Armada to the question of monetary union may not be that obvious to you and me, but then we're not Oxford historians.

So there you have it, the full rigour of the intellectual debate of the Eurosceptic right, a sight to marvel at.

Right at the beginning of the lunch the waitress who took Redwood's order looked a little puzzled when, turning from the menu, he asked for 'soup and fish'. 'Any particular sort or flavour of soup?' she asked, not unreasonably. 'Your best,' came the mind numbing reply.

As she left trying to work out that particular conundrum I wonder if she felt she was in the presence of history being made, or just some awful Tory dunderhead. I suspect she like the rest of us didn't take long to work out the answer to that one.


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