In Europe, out of the Wilderness; Chief Feature Writer Jason Beattie Applauds William Hague's CBI Speech on Europe as a Genuine Breath of Fresh Political Air

Article excerpt

Two speeches and two very different reactions.

At the Conservative Party conference Mr William Hague pulled every patriotic heart-string and touched every nationalistic nerve in his denunciation of the single currency.

As speeches go it was tub-thumping, crude and just what the Tory spin doctor ordered. However, outside the Conservative corral in Blackpool it was less well received.

Mr Hague may have been right in principle but many, particularly the well-travelled young, recoil from such simplistic flag-waving.

These people may be sceptical about the euro but they also feel uneasy about over-bombastic battle-cries to fight the Europhiles on the beaches.

Simplistic attacks on all things foreign are less appealing in an age when different nationalities are brought closer by the Internet and millions of Britons spend their summer holidays abroad and enjoy European-style cafes and fashions.

Then there was Mr Hague's speech at the CBI conference in Birmingham.

He used all his skills honed as a former management consultant to offer a passionate but rational alternative to further European integration.

This was not an appeal to the hearts but to the minds. His arguments were lucid, progressive and engaging and they could turn out to be the Conservatives' most effective political cards.

The opposition leader argued there were two alternatives for Britain in the next millennium. One course was to shackle itself to the European superstate, a "woolly mammoth" model of big government and over-regulation which inevitably led to extinction.

A central assumption of the "mammoth" model was that the nation state was doomed to be a lone, lost voice, excluded from the global club of economic superpowers.

The other route was to create a country that was "fleet of foot, lean and fit" and prepared to adapt to the economic and political changes.

Mr Hague said the Tories would advocate this "dynamic model" which recognised the benefits of e-commerce and nurtured a low-tax, low-regulation nation state which could "exploit the opportunities of the new global economy".

In sharp contrast to his Blackpool address he stressed the advantages of being part of Europe and said he wanted to make the single market a reality with a "European Union that reaches out across the continent, which champions global free trade and works in alliance with the North American Free Trade Association".

These are winning ideas not least because they move the argument forward from those who see Britain's world role as either tied to America's or Europe's apron strings - a view expressed by Mr Blair in his conference speech when he asked delegates, without a hint of rhetoric, to decide whether they were with Europe or the United States.

As Mr Hague has astutely pointed out, the theory that the world needs to be divided up into huge zones of interest - the Americas, Europa and Asia - which clash together like tectonic plates is possibly redundant.

The thinking behind this idea grew out of the Cold War and led to the creation of Nafta and the EU.

Countries such as Britain were obliged to consider allying themselves to one of the great powers or risk being relegated to pawns on the global chess board. …