Much gloom abounds amongst the Eurosceptic tribe at the moment. David Keighley opined on these pages that David Cameron’s renegotiation was little more than a hollow sham, whereas the ever doom-laden Peter Hitchens warned us that the whole referendum exercise is nothing but a cruel trick, just like the previous referendum was in 1975. Not for the first time, Dan Hannan wailed that Cameron’s stance is a terrible missed opportunity.
It is an enduring theme of this blog that many of the problems in the effectiveness of modern conservatism stem from a failure to understand the psychology of the Conservative Party, and the question of ‘Europe’ is certainly no exception. At its core the party is not conservative, but Tory: its conservatism begins and ends with preserving its own social status at life’s top tables. It is very important to note that this obsession is not the same thing at all as a lust for raw power, and that is why the strong arguments made by eurosceptics like Dan Hannan, that Britain would actually be more powerful outside the EU, have absolutely no impact: brought up with a sense of elite entitlement, Tories like David Cameron simply can not imagine being outside the club, or, to use a cricketing metaphor, playing in life’s 2nd XI.
Those of us who want out of the EU must work and pray for our victory in the referendum, but, if we are not successful, then we had better do some serious thinking about the laying the groundwork for if and when the opportunity comes again. The reality is that, barring a spectacular Ukip surge, full conversion of the Tory Party to the cause would seem necessary. If you accept the above analysis of Tory vanities, then the only way to do that is to dangle the carrot of membership of an even grander and more prestigious institution than the European Union.
History gives an interesting analogy: during the decline of the British Empire and the passing of world leadership to America, the Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron’s personal hero Harold Macmillan, likened the relationship between Britain and America, in his marvellous de haut en bas way, as akin to that between ancient Greece and Rome: Rome provided the vulgar power, whereas Greece provided the wisdom and culture. This delusion was central to the so-called ‘Special Relationship’ between the two countries, an insulting concept as it is was supposedly built on shared values, but snobbishly excluded others who also had a very strong claim to their inheritance – most notably Canada, Australia and New Zealand. That said, the fantasy that Britain remained at the pinnacle of social prestige probably did do a great deal to smooth our retreat from Empire, which otherwise may have been an altogether much more bloody affair.
So what institution could fulfil a similar function today? The Commonwealth would seem the obvious choice, full today as it is with rising economic stars and according to the former Conservative minister Michael Ancram, once revitalised, the institution would prove ideal for the modern networked world.
Sadly, strengthening our ties with the Commonwealth is too easily caricatured as a Colonel Blimp hankering after the past, and the institution is probably too freighted with historical baggage, not least Britain’s callous betrayal of it’s ex-colonies when it joined the EU. A better bet would be a formal Anglosphere club of Commonwealth members, the United States and Ireland. Many advocates of the Anglosphere strongly argue that today’s ongoing cultural melding of our countries is essentially an organic, bottom-up process brought about by a combination of cultural familiarity and modern communications and are understandably wary of setting up another formal supra-national institution which may, intime, become as degenerate and autocratic as the EU is today. Very true, but rational argument alone never has and never will never wean the Tories off EU membership: their lust for social prestige must first be sated.
Let’s get to work on that new top table.