Magazine article The Spectator

Chris Patten Did Not Get Where He Is Today by Being a Troublemaker

Magazine article The Spectator

Chris Patten Did Not Get Where He Is Today by Being a Troublemaker

Article excerpt

Mr Chris Patten, in a newspaper interview the other day, said he wanted to be thought of as a 'troublemaker'. He added that one of the people who most inspired him was the late Roy Jenkins.

Mr Patten is European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Chancellor of Oxford University. Jenkins held the latter office too, as well as having been European Commission President. He is an appropriate inspirer of Mr Patten. The whole point about Mr Patten, and about Roy Jenkins, is that both were master trouble-avoiders rather than makers. Does Mr Patten think he would have attained those two offices if he had ever made any trouble at all for anyone apart from spent forces and soft targets such as Ulster Unionists and the Conservative party?

Oxford in particular is the traditional home of safe causes. He would not preside over it now if he was trouble, nor would Jenkins have done so. Both had views acceptable to a majority of the old Oxonians who elect the Chancellor. In the past, those views were Conservative. That was why Lord Halifax was Chancellor in the 1950s; the Halifax still constantly vilified and misrepresented as a wartime defeatist. Lord Halifax became Chancellor because the Establishment was then Conservative, or at least with a small 'c'. Now the Establishment is liberal. Even Lord Chief Justices do not attach high importance to keeping out bogus asylum-seekers.

Jenkins and Patten were the beneficiaries of an important component of today's Establishment liberalism: belief in 'Europe'. Patten was one of Mrs Thatcher's Cabinet ministers. For a while, he presided over the poll tax. That impost did not worry the Establishment one way or another but was useful to it as a way of inciting the masses against her. But like Jenkins he also said a lot about being for 'Europe'. The poll tax, and his acceptance of Thatcher patronage, were therefore forgiven and forgotten. He became Oxford's magnifico. All worldly reward comes to those who are Europeans: sinecures in Brussels or Oxford, baubles, Orders of Merit.

Mr Patten would object that he makes trouble for people who are not supporters of the single currency or advocates of a European army, but who approve of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary, support capital punishment, regret the multicultural society and share the belief that Roy Jenkins and Kenneth Clarke were the best prime ministers we never had. But to upset such people is not troublemaking. Such people have no patronage. They cannot offer the gewgaws, in Brussels or Oxford, that Mr Patten and Roy Jenkins coveted. It is true that this Establishment of which I speak has not yet got us into the single currency. But that is a matter of timing. If we look closer we can see that it is already seducing Mr Howard from his implacable opposition to it. According to Mr Glover in last week's Spectator, a shift towards the euro has begun from Mr Portillo. Being apparently a seeker after the sort of prizes which Mr Patten and Roy Jenkins won, Mr Portillo is wise. Becoming a right-winger did him no good even in the medium term. His present grandeur rests on his being acceptable to the Establishment as the Thatcherite that repenteth. …

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