It is likely that I’m going to ruffle a few feathers here, but before I do I would like to say sincerely that I hope my readers have enjoyed their Christmas. The good news is that there is more celebration to come as New Year looms.
None of us can say whether there will be more good news as the year progresses, however. We know there is unpleasant belt-tightening up ahead. But will our sacrifices start to pay off? I believe they will. We, unlike Uncle Sam, are pressing most of the right buttons, though more on growth is necessary. What we have to do is hold our nerve on shrinking the state’s share of GDP.
An economy cannot take off if the state grabs too much. The great imponderable, apart from said Uncle Sam’s actions – or inactions, which might push him over the fiscal cliff with who knows what consequences for us all – is Europe. Will its terrible economic travails rain seriously on our, hopefully, improving parade? Again, no one can say.
Europe has been sticking its nose in our affairs for a very long time now. It started with the Romans; then it was the Angles, Saxons and Jutes; then the Vikings; and then the Normans (who weren’t actually French at all, but a gang of settled down Vikings). It ended there – at least where foreign occupation was concerned. After that it was our turn; the boot was on the other foot. Indeed, we have been sticking our nose in their affairs now for almost a thousand years – much strengthened, I have to admit, by this mongrel-mixing that we had to endure – and most effective our interference has been.
It has been our cardinal aim never to allow a single dominant country to conquer and overawe the rest, and so present us with an accumulation of power to which, notwithstanding our island status, we would have no answer. Many times we came close to disaster. Philip of Spain – with his Armada – almost overwhelmed us. Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’, nearly pulled it off but Churchill’s famous ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, did for the Sun King and smashed his hopes at Blenheim in Austria. Then came the terrible Napoleon; but Herculean efforts – aided by our burgeoning Industrial Revolution – spread over twenty years, which almost bankrupted us, finally brought him to ruin at Waterloo.
For a hundred years after no power on earth could threaten our supremacy and we went on to build the greatest empire known to man. But nothing lasts forever. A powerful rival in the form of the Kaiser’s Germany came up on us and the accumulated wealth of two hundred years and a bloodletting on a scale never before experienced had to be deployed to frustrate his hopes. Twenty-one years later, what was left of that once incredible wealth, plus more blood, was expended to crush Germany’s revanchist ambitions once and for all. And that is where we are today. We have no more treasure to deploy and we will not send our young men to their doom anymore in such numbers. Luckily, neither will any of the others. All of us have had enough; hence the European Union.
We all wish to prosper in a continent of harmony. We wish to concentrate our energies on getting richer as well as fairer and more compassionate. And as with Japan, the appetite for large-scale war has been successfully eradicated. So far so good.
We on this island, with some understandable difficulty, have come to accept that we cannot any longer play the world’s diva. We are, as a consequence, prepared to join forces with our European neighbours to resurrect Europe’s power and prosperity in the world which it foolishly threw away. But this is conditional on this great union being fully democratic, truly accountable and non intrusive in sensitive areas best handled at home. That is not what we see. This octopus which operates out of Brussels seeks to spread it tentacles into every nook and cranny of our national life. Its servants run a gravy train of quite stupendous generosity and corruption seems to be endemic. For eighteen years its auditors have refused to sign off its accounts. And the worst of it all is that we seem unable to control it. A reckoning is overdue.
Proud nations cannot be dictated to in matters which properly should be decided at national level. In this take on the Union’s shortcomings, we are not alone. We have natural allies in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and, most of all, moneybags Germany. They are desperate for us to stay. Our problem is that with our frustration we allow ourselves to flounce off, with all the terrible risks attendant on being out of the loop.
Outside of the Union, we cannot hope to control which direction it moves in. With such an accumulation of population, wealth and power, its development could be inimical to our interests; and it could even end up threatening us. As the most successful, internationally, of all the European powers, we must have confidence to know that our voice will be heard. Things cannot go on as they are. We have, for instance, finally brought sense to the Common Fisheries Policy which was decimating our fish stocks. Forward now to the Common Agricultural Policy which so harms the poor nations of the world and keeps food prices at home higher than they need be. Forward also with repatriating those many powers which should never have left these shores.
I glory in the diversity of our continent and am confident it will never go away. Italy will always be Italy and France, France. If I mix with the boisterous crowd wearing lederhosen at the Munich Beer Festival, they look (lederhosen excepted) just like me. Our church-driven culture down the centuries has made us – despite our fascinating differences – one civilisation with a single European culture and we cannot, indeed must not, marginalise ourselves and walk away into the sunset. And how gratifying it should be to us that the multilingual family of nations we are fashioning our future with have looked to our language to be their language of choice in order to make our latter day tower of Babel function smoothly. What an advantage that gives us.
So my plea is this: have confidence and believe in yourself. Just as through your earth-shattering Industrial Revolution you touched the face of humanity and left an indelible mark, go out and do the same in Europe. Only please, please don’t be a ‘Little Englander’. It doesn’t become you.