When it comes to covering American politics the foreign press loves nothing more than gawping at the excesses of the right-wing of the conservative movement. Some of this is reasonable, even fair; much of it descends into caricature. Implicit in much of this stuff is the idea that these Americans should be figures of horror and amusement. Meanwhile, it is quietly suggested, we should congratulate ourselves that our politics has little room for such eccentric or even dangerous obsessives. This smugness is unwarranted. Consider the views of Rupert Matthews, the successor to the dreadful Roger Helmer as a member of the European Parliament. He has a thing about Panzers in Britain.
A country like Britain is a massive contributor in financial terms to the European Union. Having Britain as a member state means the European Union carries a lot more kudos and a lot more authority on the international stage. But if Britain were to leave, that authority would be diminished, the European Union would have a much smaller budget, much less money coming into the centre
[...] The other aspect which the Lisbon Treaty brought in, which I found really quite worrying, is that the European Commission now has the right to deploy military forces to anywhere within the European Union without needing to get the permission of the member state where the military forces are being deployed.
[...] It’s up to the commission, so long as I think it is the Commission president plus a majority of the commission are in favour of this. The only drawback that they have on this is that of course they don’t have any military forces of their own. … it is a technical problem. But the key point is that while they have to have the permission of the country whose forces they are deploying, they do not need the permission of the country to which they are deployed. So for instance, were there to be massive riots in London or there were to be all sorts of problems, they could go to the German government and say please send us a Panzer division, and if the German government said yes, then the European Commission could send that Panzer division to London and there is nothing the British government could do about it.
It is quite clear the way that the European Union is developing, it is quite clear what they are trying to achieve, and looking at the examples from the past, these are real warnings about what might happen in Europe.
Those Conservatives who complain that David Cameron does not talk as much about Brussels as he might or should would do well to ask themselves why this might be. It is not that the Prime Minister is some kind of crypto-eurocrat or even that the awkward compromises of coalition prevent him from "speaking out". It is not the Lib Dems who persuade Cameron to keep quiet, it is the Tory right itself.
Talking about Europe, you see, means opening the loony bins. Every monomaniacal obsessive will be granted his five minutes on the Today programme with predictably grim consequences. Normal people, when they are stirred to think about it, may like grumbling about Brussels and the EU but they are not obsessed by it and they tend, I am afraid, to think that those who are so gripped by the matter are eye-popping, head-banging nutcases. This may be unfair. Nevertheless…
Lord knows, the EU has plenty of flaws and this too is widely recognised in Britain. But the issue remains a toxic one for the Conservative party because even people who do not much care for Brussels care even less for those who seem so disproportionately obsessed by EU issues.
This must be galling for the right since their warnings about the single currency have been justified by events. Nonetheless, politics is not simply a matter of being right. It also matters how you are right and how you are perceived. Any cause, however worthy you may think it, can be discredited by its advocates. The British people have a great talent for grumbling but they are not an extreme or especially ideological bunch. Even when they may agree, more or less, with ideological ends they tend to disapprove of zealots and paranoics.
In the end, if the Tory right wants David Cameron to spend more time talking about Europe the Tory right will have to learn to keep quiet about Europe.Tags: Britain, Brussels, Cameron, ConLib, Europe