Britain And The EU
The New Conservatism has a clear position on the European Union: as it is a form of Government, it is by definition bad. Therefore it must be attacked, and if a chance comes to damage it, this must be taken with both hands. Thus all good upstanding New Conservatives are opposed the Britain’s membership of the EU, and all demonstrate their ideological soundness and purity by campaigning for it to leave.
How this campaigning takes place is a thing of some complexity and fascination, and is not confined solely to the UK. To demonstrate this, the Heritage Foundation, whose motivations I observed in a previous post, has published a wide range of material designed to shape the narrative in the USA, at least on the right. Typical of Heritage’s efforts is an essay from Nile Gardner of The Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom.
Gardner tells his readers Stateside that “Americans have no reason to fear Brexit. They should embrace it as a tremendous opportunity to reinvigorate the Anglo-American Special Relationship, which has been politically weakened in recent years during Barack Obama’s time in office”. This matches the narrative being pushed by right-leaning media in the UK. Sadly, Gardner also has a reputation for poor research: in another of his attacks on Barack Obama, this one for Telegraph Blogs, he claimed that John F Kennedy gave his Berlin speech at the same location as Obama - at the Brandenburg Gate.
That would have been a challenging proposition: the Brandenburg Gate, during the years that Berlin was divided by The Wall, was in East Berlin - on the other side of it. Kennedy gave his “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” oration at the Rathaus Schöneberg, which served as the Town Hall of West Berlin during the time of partition.
Another of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom’s pundits, Ted Bromund, used a suitably tired “what if” analysis to reinforce the idea that Britain leaving the EU was “not radical”: “How would you like it if the United States got together with Canada, Mexico, and every other nation in the New World and set up a new government, headquartered in Guatemala? This government would be run by an unelected bureaucracy with its own supreme court. It could void any of our laws. It would tax us, impose rules on us, and tell us who we could trade freely with”.
This is, of course, a mixture of exaggeration and downright dishonesty, but that will surprise no-one who has observed the Referendum debate in the UK. Straddling both continents, co-founder of the Young Britons’ Foundation Donal Blaney, someone else who has previously featured in this column, made clear his position in February, as he lectured his followers in the UK from his comfortable retreat in Tampa, FL.
“For many of us, our membership of the EU is what brought us into politics. I was a member of the Campaign for an Independent Britain in 1990 even before I joined the Conservative Party as a sixteen year-old. Whether we believe in higher or lower taxes, a larger or smaller state, nationalised or privatised healthcare or schools, the reality is that too little can be done to meet the demands of voters while we remain in the European Union” he argued.
As with so much else from the New Conservatives, the narrative is framed around freedom. By the most fortunate of coincidences, freedom is somehow absent, except in the ideal scenario favoured by those same people. That narrative is supported by the claim that the EU is somehow “anti-democratic”. We are told that the EU is “unaccountable”, and that we cannot get rid of those in power. Sadly, this is totally untrue.
The decision making body in the EU is the European Parliament. All who serve here are directly elected. It is therefore a democratic body whose members can be voted out, should they not maintain the support of their countries’ electorates. And, although the members of the European Commission - one from each member state - are not elected, the Commission can be removed, and there is an example - the Santer Commission - where this took place.
Moreover, some aspects of the EU appeal to the New Conservatives: the idea that there should be free movement of people is in line with the ideology that promotes freedom. But this, as one look at the output of lobby groups like the IEA, is dwarfed by that other ideology that sees the EU as another kind of Government and therefore intrinsically bad.
That is the position of the Adam Smith Institute, which has recently churned out an increasing number of what it calls “bad reasons to stay in the EU”, authored by reliably anti-EU pundits. For some reason, that free movement question is side-stepped. This is important, as the ideology of such groups directs them to favour it. But here a problem enters: that may turn off a significant part of the target audience, especially those who read the kinds of mid-market and red-top newspapers that are vehemently opposed to the idea of inward migration, wherever it originates.
The so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance claims to be agnostic in the run-up to the June referendum. This is monstrously disingenuous, as the Business For Britain, and all the associated “for Britain” groups, which advocate leaving the EU, are in effect spin-offs of the TPA. But the New Conservatism need not trouble the electorate with full disclosure.
What Britain would have outside the EU is, even for the New Conservatives, couched in vague but optimistic terms. But there would be freedom. And freedom is A Very Good Thing, whatever else we might lose in the process. There is no business case presented, no cost-benefit analysis. We must take them on trust.
Whether voters want to give that trust is entirely another matter.