3 SEPTEMBER 1999, Page 27


Only a federal Europe can stop the abolition of Britain

PEREGRINE WORSTHORNE Sadly, there is not a chance of this hap- pening under the British parliamentary sys- tem. If Mrs Thatcher could not reverse the decay, how can any lesser Tory be expected to do better? The people of England have spoken, in successive general elections, and there is no way of inferring from their mes- sage any willingness, in the event, to back that degree of coercion which would be required to bring about such a glorious social counter-revolution. A British Franco, by authoritarian decree, might be able to see such a process through. But so long as Britain sticks to its historic liberal tradi- tions, the necessary degree of reaction is virtually inconceivable.

Nor would this conclusion be in any way invalidated if the Tories under Mr Hague persuaded the electorate to sweep them back to office on a wave of popular antago- nism to the euro. For even if that did hap- pen, which is just possible, the resulting administration would be no more able to challenge the liberal Zeitgeist successfully than have the preceding Tory governments. In these respects, it would simply be Blairism without the euro. Indeed, were Mr Hague to hint at social reaction in general, even that degree of a Tory recovery would be most unlikely. The pound would be saved, and maybe also British indepen- dence; yet the abolition of old England in all respects would continue unabated. There is no escape from this dilemma. So long as our politics are played by the tradi- tional insular rules, Britain will always be liberal Britain. For Tory Britain to have a chance, we need a new pack of cards. That is why it is such a disaster that the Tories seem determined to reject the only remotely respectable new international pack of cards that has ever been seriously on offer: Federal Europe. Only as part of a Federal European Right — in effect a Christian Democratic Right — could there be any real chance of British Conservatism recovering an effective leverage over Britain's social, as against economic, future. The reason is very simple. The European Right (and Left for that matter) has no fear of the strong state, no hang-ups about indi- vidual liberty, which is why it is as willing to use the power of the state to curb the excesses of free speech and a free media, as of free enterprise or free trade. For exam- ple, in France it has no compunction about upholding laws prohibiting the defamation of its elected president, and in Spain of upholding laws prohibiting the defamation of its king; laws which in England would put the vilely anti-monarchist Murdoch press out of business. Nor does France's well-known tolerance of sexual scandal sug- gest otherwise. For it is precisely because the French state is such a strong supporter of the family in general that it can afford to take adultery, etc. in its stride. But should the family be put in danger, as it is in Britain, it would be a different story.

A long-established mandarin meritocracy, such as most of the Continental European countries have long enjoyed, is a great help in this respect, since those men and women who form it, having won their place at the top through their own superior brain power, have none of the guilty inhibitions which nowadays go with hereditary privilege. Such a meritocratic caste is beginning to develop here under New Labour. But it will take many years before it acquires the strength of its Continental counterparts whose by now entrenched habits of authority date as far back as the revolution of 1789.

By contrast, take our Roy Jenkins, for example. In this country his plummy voice, lordly ways and superior intelligence arouse envy and resentment: who does he think he is? The fact that he is so obviously a superior person militates to his disadvantage since superior persons are still associated with an increasingly despised ancien regime. No such handicaps weigh down the highly educated in France. They have no need, as ours do, to disguise their intellectual superiority or to dilute their mastery of the French language with demotic affectations, or to dress down in imitation of the masses. They command deference since they are not frightened, as their equivalents are here, to demonstrate that they deserve it. A French Jeremy Pax- man, for example, or even a French Polly Toynbee — which is difficult to imagine would soon be put in their place if they start- ed to cheat and bully the members of the French meritocracy whose confidence and arrogance would be even greater than their own. As a result, the state is not lightly mocked, as it is increasingly here.

Peter Hitchens, incidentally, mocks Roy Jenkins as the godfather of the permissive society, which is fair enough. Sexual per- missiveness, however, is not wrong in itself. Indeed the state has no business interfering with what goes on in the bedroom between consenting adults, but only so long as its authority is such as to be able to clamp down effectively, as the French state can and does, on the undesirable social conse- quences — illegitimate babies, homosexual militancy (gay marches, etc.), abortion on demand, gross licentiousness on television, and so on. Indeed, the more sexually per- missive the society is, the more need there is for a strong state.

What should Conservatives be funda- mentally concerned to conserve? Not so much capitalism as civilisation, which is by no means the same thing. By civilisation I mean a nation's language and literature, its culture, its architectural heritage, its code of manners, its agriculture, its institutions of higher learning. For all these prime pur- poses the European elites, Left as much as Right, are far better placed than their British counterparts. For elitism is not a dirty word on the Continent. Serious news- papers, for example, exclusively targeted at the highly educated, still prosper. Also the political culture is such that generous subsi- dies for the arts enjoy consensual support across the political spectrum, with no mileage to be gained by a politician trying to stir up popular envy and resentment.

In short, the big bourgeois battalions behind decency and decorum are far stronger on the Continent than in Britain, which is why in joining forces with them, indeed merging with them, lies our only realistic chance of once again making Britain a country fit for the educated and cultivated, rather than the yobbish and moronic, to inhabit. Who cares about losing sovereignty — most of which has already vanished — if civilisation is regained?