Magazine article The Spectator

The Last Euromantic

Magazine article The Spectator

The Last Euromantic

Article excerpt

THE myths surrounding him are daunting: a multi-millionaire ensconced in a luxurious Smith Square mansion who trawls London in a maroon Bentley looking like John Steed from the Avengers television series: pin-striped, arrogant, rude - and driving the Tory party mad. The man who opens the door of what is actually an unassuming first-floor flat proffers a languid hand and apologises for feeling a little ill.

John Stevens, the founder of the Pro Euro Conservative party, makes an unlikely political leader. He attracts an unusual level of derision, not only from the Tory leadership, which reviles him, but from many others who have never actually spoken to him - `typical merchant banker' is a fairly standard comment.

It is easy to see why: the City suits, the Bentley, the money, the homes in Devon and London, are easy to despise. And then Mr Stevens, who pumps his own money into his fledgling party, has an unusually bold aim - fatally to wound the Conservative party leadership and remove from office the Europhobic zealots he believes have stolen its soul. Certainly, for a politician nobody had heard of a few months ago, he is enjoying the sort of high profile of which most Tory MPs can only dream.

But were any Tory apparatchiks to make the effort to walk the 20 steps from Conservative HQ and ring his doorbell they would find a man who is polite, modest and idealistic, running a rather effective operation from his bright green kitchen. And doing it only because he passionately believes in Britain's future in Europe. This, after all, is a politician who has effectively given up, out of principle, not only his party but also the European seat he has held for ten years.

Few people expect the voters of the South-East to re-elect John Stevens to the European Parliament. Nonetheless, he is sanguine about the prospect of losing his job, perhaps in part because he frankly admits he doesn't particularly enjoy being an MEP: `You are in the front row of the stalls for a lot of the stories but you are never on the stage . . . you don't have much power.' He stood for the European Parliament after becoming convinced that Europe was the only way for Britain to become powerful again.

Growing up in Washington, DC, where his father, a director of the Bank of England, was working for the IMF, he was sent at the age of seven to boarding school in England - to Horris Hill, and then to Winchester. The transatlantic experience made him question why the UK wasn't as dynamic as the US: `America seemed to be doing everything at once - going to the moon, fighting the war - everything was so small in Britain.' The experience clearly shaped his politics: `Europe gives us a chance to be big players. I found it very hard to accept the notion that my country wasn't such a great power.' He has a whiff of the great romantic Tory imperialist tradition, encapsulated by Churchill and the Amerys, which could never accept the limited vision of a Little England residing in splendid isolation.

At Magdalen, Oxford, which he thought totally absurd , he read law, which he 'hated', and left with a third-class degree: 'I completely wasted my time at Oxford. I was a member of the Union but only because it had cheap champagne. I was completely allergic to student politics.' He also found the education backward-looking: `I'm not a romantic about great English traditions.' After Oxford he went to Munich (he speaks fluent French, German and Italian, as well as some Russian), largely because he liked skiing, and worked in a restaurant, then a bank. He must have done well in banking because he ended up at Morgan Grenfell and, by the time he was 30, had become head of their foreign exchange trading operation in London. …

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