The Spectator's Notes

Why does no one in the cabinet admit to being a Europhile?

Also in The Spectator’s Notes: Cameron’s changing EU slogan; hair wins elections; the Queen on the Tube

27 February 2016

9:00 AM

27 February 2016

9:00 AM

One of the oddest features of the cabinet majority for staying in the EU is that almost no one in it admits to being a Europhile. How is it, then, that the very last-century ideas of Edward Heath, Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine and Chris Patten can still exercise so much power over those who have so strongly and, in some cases, consistently criticised the EU in the past — Philip Hammond, Theresa May, Michael Fallon, Sajid Javid, Oliver Letwin, Liz Truss, Stephen Crabb, and, of course, David Cameron himself? Obviously one factor is that Tory MPs have found it convenient in recent years to adopt Eurosceptic protective colouring in their constituencies. But I think there is something deeper. The fear factor which may well win the referendum for Mr Cameron actually operates even more strongly on the elites than on the mass of the population. People who hold important jobs are much more worried than normal citizens about being considered ‘off the wall’. If they opt for ‘leave’, they will be interrogated fiercely by their peers about their decision. If they declare for ‘remain’, they will be left in peace. The EU is the biggest elite orthodoxy of the western world since we gave up our belief in imperialism. Most people within elites find it too tiring and dangerous to question the orthodoxy under which they have risen to the top.

Obviously the 198 business leaders who signed a letter to the Times on Tuesday explaining why Britain should remain in the EU are too busy and important to read what appears under their names, but surely someone in their enormous ‘comms’ teams should have pointed out to them that they were directly repeating David Cameron’s current slogan, ‘Britain will be stronger, safer and better off remaining a member of the EU.’ Might it not compromise their independence as top executives if they let words be put into their mouths by a politician? Irritated, I tried to order my stockbroker to divest my portfolio of all shares in all the companies concerned, but unfortunately found that I had not got any. By the way, Mr Cameron’s slogan has already changed. Until Sunday, it was ‘Britain will be stronger, safer and better off remaining in a reformed Europe’ but, as it has become clear that Europe will not be reformed at all, the last bit of the slogan has been quietly dropped. Keep a watch on it, in case ‘stronger’, ‘safer’ or ‘better off’ have also to be jettisoned in the coming weeks.

The next day in the Daily Telegraph, 13 former heads of the armed services also came out for ‘remain’. Their examples of successful collaboration with EU allies were two. The first was helping ‘to force the Iranians to the negotiating table through EU-wide sanctions’. That morning’s papers also reported that the Iranians have just offered a new bounty of $600,000 for anyone who kills Sir Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. The other achievement of the EU allies, according to the ex-top brass, was making Vladimir Putin ‘pay a price for his aggression in Ukraine’. Yes, those were the best they could find.

It is wearisome work, but I hope the ‘leave’ campaign is carefully monitoring the BBC’s coverage of the referendum. On Monday, the first full weekday since Mr Cameron’s ‘legally binding’ deal, I listened to the Today programme for more than two hours. I heard six speakers for ‘remain’ and two (John Mills and Nigel Lawson) for ‘leave’. In this I am not including any of the BBC interviewers themselves, though my hunch, based solely on the way they ask questions, is that all of them, with the possible exception of John Humphrys, are for ‘remain’. The guests explicitly in favour of ‘remain’ were Carolyn Fairbairn, Sir Mike Rake, Stanley Johnson and Michael Fallon. Jonathan Portes, who is always presented by the BBC as a neutral expert, was actually pushing the EU cause. It is true that my sixth speaker, ‘John Bell of the Iona Community’, never mentioned the EU at all, but his Thought for the Day, like almost all his contributions to that curious slot, was about how ghastly the British are compared with everyone else, which is an underlying Euro-enthusiast dogma. Actually, I have serious doubts as to whether ‘John Bell of the Iona Community’ exists. My theory is that he has been invented by a rogue satirist — a sort of Sacha Baron Cohen — within the corporation to embody racist English stereotypes of dour, chippy Scotsmen whose main religious belief is that all Tories will go to Hell.

It is recognised that the era of television has made it well-nigh impossible in Britain and the United States for a balding leader to win an election if pitted against one with more hair — Callaghan/Foot/Kinnock v. Thatcher, George H.W. Bush v. Clinton, Hague/Howard v. Blair, McCain v. Obama. (The only exceptions I can think of derive from the power of incumbency — George W. Bush v. Kerry, Obama v. Romney.) Now the voters’ jaded palate seems to be no longer content with a full head of hair alone, but wants it to be strikingly memorable as well, not to say strange. Hence the rise of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. Obviously Boris would beat Jeremy Corbyn on this account. If Mr Trump gets the Republican nomination, however, he will almost certainly face Mrs Clinton, who is in no way bald. The electorate will be in a quandary that may have to be resolved by the Supreme Court, which rises above such considerations. In 2000, the court awarded the presidency to George W. Bush, despite the fact that he had less hair than his opponent, Al Gore.

The last time the Queen travelled on the Tube before she opened the Elizabeth Line this week was in 1969, when she opened the Victoria Line. I vaguely remember that event, because the then-innovative automatic ticket machine spat out the coin which she had inserted. The rejected coin was, I think, a sixpence (2.5p). The (cash) price of a Zone One single today is £4.90.


Join Isabel Hardman, James Forsyth and Fraser Nelson at the ICA, near Trafalgar Square, to discuss the campaign with Ben Page, pollster at Ipsos Mori. A subscriber-only event. To book, click here. To subscribe from £1/week, click here.

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  • davidshort10

    Don’t worry, Mr Moore, you will soon be eligible for a 60 plus Oystercard.

  • Nick

    There are several if not many cabinet members who want to vote Leave and two of them are Theresa May and Phillip Hammond.

    And we all know it.You can see the look of doubt on their faces now that Boris has opted to Leave.

    It’s in the eyes.

    • Andrew Cole

      And Javid and Letwin. recall them all for lying and replace them.

  • Carol Thorne

    As politicians are not generally the most popular of breeds just now, isn’t it possible that the more of them say “stay”, the more of the rest of us are likely to respond by voting “out” ?

  • misomiso

    good old Charlie boy.

    I saw your discussion with Polly Toynbee when she accused you of being a member of the establishment; you may have been one day, but we’re now the Rebels Charles! Vive La Revolution against the EU Behemoth! Be Proud of your rebel status!

  • BillRees

    The Europhiles, headed by Cameron, surely realise that there will be lucrative jobs in the EU waiting for them when their Westminster careers come to an end.

    And that is just one more reason to pursue the out vote with added enthusiasm.

    • post_x_it

      That’s what Cleggie was counting on, but he is still jobless.

  • John Hawkins Totnes

    Can someone help me? In this country we have a well founded, reliable constitutional settlement (the world’s most robust) which regularly allows us to choose a new Parliament and a government with full powers to act in our interests. So why do we need a referendum? Especially as our Prime Minister tells us it is government policy to stay in the eu and is spending vast amounts of our money to pursuede us to vote remain. We don’t elect our politicians to abdicate their responsibilities. There is a bad smell here.

    • Jonathan Burns

      Cameron promised a referendum in the last election, did you miss that.
      Likewise we elect our government to rule us, not hand power to others.

      • Bertie

        He only promised it because he was worried UKIP would take a large slice of the Tory vote, resulting in a labour victory.

        So it’s thanks to Farage & Ukip we have any referendum at all.

    • Tellytubby

      The referendum was an election promise. If the election was run on a one policy basis then I’d agree – but the fact was it was promised and so could certainly he said o have induced a conservative vote. Election promises should be honoured as a constitutional convention convention the social contract between voter and government in the robust and developed constitutional system you rightly point put we enjoy.

  • Dukeofplazatoro

    One problem with the vote leave side is that it seems to have attracted such a rag bag of self-centred caricature types ranging from Nigel Farage and Little Englanders on the one hand, via Boris, to George Galloway on the other, so cabinet members may be reluctant to associate themselves with such a bunch of assorted fruit cakes. In this respect, Michael Gove’s decision to take the plunge was significant and worthy of more respect than he has received.

    It is a pity that common sense arguments for leaving are heard so rarely, and one of the reason why I enjoy Charles Moore’s articles is that he is one of the few giving us the reasons why we should leave in a sensible fashion – namely leaving is essential if we wish to be an independent self- governing democracy, none of which is possible while we remain in the EU. In an earlier article he warned about the steady drip feeding we should expect from “project fear” and this has indeed been the case. Hardly a day seems to pass without some new potential calamity being announced which “could” occur because of Brexit, and today it was the turn of the G20 to announce that Brexit could “threaten the stability of the World Economy”. Really? I read so often from posts on here that we are no more than a bunch of insignificant islands, and yet here we are threatening the World Economy should we have the temerity to vote to leave. Well, we might indeed threaten it if leaving makes us more competitive – as I expect it will. I am only waiting for the day when we will be told by the great and the good that Brexit will contribute to global warming or the establishment of the caliphate.

    Returning to the theme of independence (to make our own arrangements with the rest of the world, without the shackles of having to do so as part of a sclerotic bloc dominated by the interests of other countries) self-government (i.e. the ability to set our own laws and regulations to suit our own economy and circumstances, which are significantly different from those of other European countries) and democracy (meaning the accountability of those setting the laws to the electorate, which the European Commission is not), I would argue that the project fear protagonists, and those in the cabinet are demonstrating their own inadequacy and inability to adapt. I would extend this observation to those in business – usually those with stronger ties to Europe than to the US, China or the Commonwealth – who make sweeping statements about impending disaster as if we would be incapable of negotiating new agreements with other countries or as if the entire banking sector would up sticks and move to Frankfurt overnight. I suppose if the ability of our representatives to negotiate such agreements is on a level with that of David Cameron then maybe they might have a point – we have already had the chance to weigh Cameron’s negotiating skills in his sessions with the EU heads of state, and sadly, they have been found wanting. Brexit though should seen as an opportunity, not a threat, an opportunity for our country to develop along its own lines, under its own laws, and answerable to its own electorate, as it was before 1973. Our businesses and social relations would be in a world context, not merely European, and more importantly, those setting our laws will be directly answerable to the electorate once more, and will be servants of the electorate, and not masters of it.

    • Tellytubby

      I agree. The arguments for leaving are actually incredibly simply extolled.

      Firstly, one can just say that you acknowledge that the UKs best interests are not always the same as 32 other nation states best interests especially when they are so diverse and economically varied. In any clash of national vs supra-national interests one should choose the interests of ones own country first. The EU has tried incredibly hard to stymie this argument by integrating (or harmonising) the member states and their economies through Schengen and the Euro along with the ECJ as the enforcer. To pursue our national interest is now made increasingly difficult by this integration and whilst we remain a member we cannot legally take decisions to do so if they clash with European law.

      Secondly, the EU is undemocratic and has shown itself repeatedly to hold principles of democracy in contempt. The Executive is unelected and unnacountable, and the legislature is pointless (and even if it were not it would still face the problem of my first point in trying to progress matter and in OUR national interest amongst a bloc of other nations doing the same thing). Referendums have been ignored if they gave the wrong answer and the bureaucrats in charge cant be replaced or otheraise held to account by the people. I believe that the only legitimate government is granted by an express grant of power by the governed to the government. That has not happened and will not happen because it is likely such a grant would not be forthcoming. Thus we have tyranny.

      Finally, it is simply not good enough value for money for the average British person for it to be worth the previous two reasons. Common ago cultural policy and common fisheries directives along with the membership “fee” and the amount of British money leaving these shores for the continent are not worth benefits gained by a single market with free movement when those same policies could be negotiated and acheived without the social or political goals of union being progressed – as the British people opted for when they considered the Common Market to be worthy of thier vote. The pretense that this project is an economic one primarily has been dropped – the tail wags the dog in the EU. This is political and social Union first and foremost. The economic and monetary union is not much more than a mechanism to drive this political union by increasing interdependence and levelling the playing field between the richer and poorer states (against our national interest once again – although I do acknowledge that it is in our interest to ensure wealth and stability globally as far as we are able as long as it doesn’t impinge on us over onerously – after all market size and affluence is vital).

      I believe these arguments to be simple and as matter of fact accurate. They are perhaps rather long winded for the Twitter age and most millenials will not bother reading them – but sometimes important things can’t be reduced to 140 characters.

  • Philsopinion

    “How is it, then, that the very last-century ideas… can still exercise so much power over those who have so strongly and, in some cases, consistently criticised the EU in the past — Philip Hammond, Theresa May, Michael Fallon, Sajid Javid, Oliver Letwin, Liz Truss, Stephen Crabb, and, of course, David Cameron himself?”

    They are all neoliberals who want to use the EU to sign TTIP and the Investor-State dispute settlements which will give big business ultimate control over the government.

    Gove and Johnson on the other hand believe they can get these democracy ending deals signed faster if they leave the EU and do them on a bilateral basis.

  • John Carins

    The day of reckoning for the insincerity (to put it mildly) of those Tory cabinet members et al will be when they are held to account at the Referendum by their electorate.