Magazine article The Spectator

All Right, All Right It's Not Cool-But Yah-Boo Sucks to the Metre

Magazine article The Spectator

All Right, All Right It's Not Cool-But Yah-Boo Sucks to the Metre

Article excerpt

I have just listened to Lord Howe of Aberavon and suddenly I get it. The great man was invited on the Today programme to give William Hague one of his famous dead-sheep savagings about Europe. You may have noticed that over the last few days various top Tories - including Mr Major in these very pages - have been offering 'advice' to the party leader. This 'advice', which is always intended to be 'helpful', is always ruthlessly interpreted by chaps like me, i.e. political journalists, as another outbreak of Hutu-Tutsi-style Tory civil war and prompts headlines about Mounting Turmoil and Deepening Rifts and Sickening Blood Lust.

The gist of the advice is normally that Mr Hague must not be too 'right-wing'. By which the grandees seem to mean, boiling it all down, that he must not be too vehemently opposed to European integration. And some of us have been puzzled by this 'advice', since we all know that William Hague's policy on Europe, when laid on the slab, is not half as extreme as they suggest.

Hague is (a) in favour of sticking in the EU and (b) of playing a leading role in Europe, whatever that means; and in so far as the Tories have suggested that national governments should be prepared to use their vetoes at the forthcoming treaty-- changing conference, no government would dream of doing otherwise.

So I cocked an ear to the dead sheep in the hope of elucidation. And Howe, to his great credit, came clean, The problem wasn't so much the detail of Hague-ism, he said. In fact. he had a high regard for William Hague, who had apparently been his bagman in the 1983 election. The former foreign secretary even applauded the position of 'moderate Euroscepticism'. What made him 'anxious', he said, was the 'impression' the Tories sometimes gave of harbouring more extreme views. In other words, it was something in their mien, their way of talking about Europe, that was giving people the wrong idea.

Many of us listeners to the TodaY programme will at this point have chewed hard on our toast, and brooded. The truth is, he may be right. Many of us run the risk, sometimes, of seeming a little extreme on Europe. We wear pound signs in our lapels. We mutter about democracy, and we bark, in a harsh John Redwood-ish kind of way, when we say things like 'the Commission' or 'Brussels'. And we must face the terrifying thought that this closely reasoned, deeply felt Euroscepticism is finally becoming unfashionable.

Help. If Howe is right, and the Tories are inadvertently appearing to be a bunch of swivel-eyed extremists, then perhaps they should take care. Maybe they should sing the 'Ode to Joy' at the end of the next party conference, and maybe John Redwood should kit himself out with a Douglas Hurd-style loden coal. Indeed, I am in favour of anything that will convince the electorate that the Tories are pro-European in the best sense: the pro-cappuccino, pro-Beethoven sense. But the more one thinks about Lord Howe's accusations, the more clearly one can see what a bully he is. And one only has to study the events of the last week to see how terrified the Tories already are of appearing 'extreme'.

This week, with all the random violence of a poppy felled by a passing scythe, we saw the extinction of an ancient British tradition. Against the wishes of 75 per cent of the British people it has become a criminal offence for shopkeepers to sell goods in imperial measures. …

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