September 27, 2005

Who Will Be The Eurosceptic Lincoln?

The abolitionist Frederick Douglass, in pronouncing his verdict over Abraham Lincoln, said "Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull and indifferent," Douglass said. Then he added, "But measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical and determined." He said all needed "a comprehensive view of Abraham Lincoln, and to make reasonable allowance for the circumstances of his position."

So in their own way British Eurosceptics need to make reasonable allowances for the circumstances of the positions of the candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party. In this case, it is not so much the sentiment of the country, which is more Eurosceptic than any major-party leader, but of the generators of received opinon -- the academics, the BBC, and the other "great and good", who still have the ability to tar as "xenophobic" any major-party figure who makes a realistic assessment of the value of European Union membership for the United Kingdom. Mark Steyn, in is inimitable manner, has effectively skewered the least satisfactory of these candidiates. However, friends of Britain must then wonder who of the plausible candidiates (for example, David Davis or Liam Fox) might just turn out to be Britian's Lincoln in regard to Europe -- "tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent" by the standards of Eurosceptics, but "swift, zealous, radical, and determined" by the standards of contemporary British politics. We will undoubtedly hear more on this from fellow-bogger Helen Szamuely, and others, but it might be worth looking at the following transcript of a conversation between myself and Liam Fox, part of which appeared in an article of mine in National Review Online last month.

Liam Fox has held the position of shadow foreign minister for the Conservative opposition in the UK and is a candidate for the leadership of the Conservatives in the race that will be decided this autumn.

Washington, DC June 23rd, 2005

JB. American conservatives are beginning to view the British Tories like the Chicago Cubs or the Boston Red Sox - -we love you guys, but when are you going to win one?

LF. In the last election, in advertising terms, we had a product, but not a brand. People didn’t have a clear sense of who the party was or what it would do for them. When we can market ourselves in such a way that it is clear we can meet people’s aspirations, we will win.

The idea of what kind of party we have is something we have not resolved. In a time of prosperity, although gradually eroding prosperity, it is hard to convey the idea of the party.

JB You have one of the best economies in the world right now, don't you?

LF. Well, it's because of the supply-side reforms we brought in in the eighties, which laid the basis for the prosperity we enjoyed in the nineties and in this decade.

What people are failing to notice in the UK in the last 2 to 3 years is that the biggest part of the growth of jobs had been in the public sector, rather than the private.

The real achievement of the Labor government is that the Labor have been rather slower to screw up the economy that the average socialist government.

JB. Why would a Tory government be a good thing for the US?

LF. I think that you find we have a huge commonality of interest on economic policy. We would like to see Europe reform itself to create a more favorable international trading environment.

It has to be good for the US if we can lift Europe out of the doldrums. This won’t happen without reform. The Conservatives are beginning to develop a positive view of a Europe that is not based on the "ever closer union" language of the Maastricht treaty, a more decentralized, more flexible European Union that is run for its citizens and not its institutions

JB. What specific structural changes would you seek to make in the EU to achieve this more flexible Europe?

LF. As I said in the House of Commons, I may no longer be practicing medicine but I can still recognize a corpse when I see one. Now that we've put the proposed European Constitution behind us we can start to think of a more flexible dynamic for Europe. But to understand what this would be we have to go back for a moment to the negatives:

The constitution introduced a common foreign policy for Europe. That is a non-starter. Member states must be free to decide their own foreign policy based on their own interests, although obviously there can be comment elements of our foreign policies when there are common interests.

The “charter of rights” is another thing that is not needed and can only take decision-making away from the national governments that are actually responsible to the people.

All these things we believe would lead to interference by the European courts or
other European institutions in our British institutions, which would be a negation of democracy.

The model we would like to see is more flexibility. This means powers moving back from Brussels to individual states, like control of fisheries, or foreign aid. Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy which is extraordinarily wasteful, in parts corrupt, and an obstacle to countries trying to get economic development.
Other areas

Massive bureaucracies: Why we need to keep a second European parliament in Strasbourg just to keep the French happy is beyond me.

So there are a number of big changes we would like to see going into European reform.

JB. One of the observations I've had is that Tony Blair created an enormous amount of good will with the US not just toward his government but also to the UK. In general we were willing to give many things to the UK that many countries would have given a limb to have.

In 2003 the Senate proposed extending a free trade agreement to the UK which because of the European customs union provisions you weren't able to accept.

Would you try to get an EU that was flexible enough to take advantage of separate trade agreements?

LF It would be nice to think that that may be possible.

JB. That'd be the big one.

LF It's a very very big one. Europe's nowhere near that yet.

I think that we ought to se that debate as part of the wider debate about the future of trading blocs to the environment created by GATT and the WTO. For instance when we went into what was then the Common Market the world trading environment was much more hostile. There's been a good deal of liberalization since then. I suppose it depends on your view of the trading blocs. I'd like to see the trading blocs as a step toward greater liberalization. What you will find though is that the public will see the trading blocs as a means of insulating themselves from the winds of international competitiveness.

So I think that there is a real debate among conservatives

One of the things I'd like to see is that we move this debate forward.

Because I'm a great believer in international trade because the interdependence
it brings is a contributor to stability globally and that really ought to be the goal for politicians on the right.

If we can achieve a liberal international trading environment going beyond blocs, in such an environment the case you mentioned becomes academic.

JB. Your fellow Scotsman Gordon Brown has endorsed, as have many in the past, the idea of a transatlantic free trade area, which would essentially create a free trading are between the NAFTA counties and the EEA countries. What's your view?

LF. Again it goes back to my view of using the blocs as stepping stones.

If we can do it without too much regulation that's fine.

My note of caution is about the way the single market developed in Europe. Instead of a market of mutual recognition it became a market of harmonization . Harmonization can only work with a substantial body of law and regulation. And you've got NAFTA which is much more the mutual recognition model while the EU has taken an incompatible approach. As they say, a bird may love a fish but they can't go home together.

JB Many people miss this point. I was talking with a Europhile member of parliament and he said "well, you American achieved a single market through harmonization" but in actual fact we didn't. States have the right to set up separate standards, it's just that generally they don't find it in their economic interest to do so. We have a single market through the fifty states and the thirteen Canadian provinces, and this was done without any supernational authority.

LF It's a matter of regulating at the lowest possible level. The concept of the single market they have been working with is one of top-down authority, and it has been applied with a ratchet effect. Instead we must work toward a Europe that works by a mutual recognition model, much like NAFTA. But that's going to take a lot of time and great political will. We have a lot of people in the EU
bureaucracy whose job it is to create regulation, and we need to strip out some of this authority.

JB. Would this looser Europe and more enlarged Europe include free
movement of people within the community?

LF. I think that movement would have to be qualified. The entry of a country with as large a population as Turkey, with immediate, unrestricted free movement of people, would not be acceptable to electorates in much of Europe. So there would have to be some way of qualifying that. The UK is not a member of the Schengen agreement (which provides for free movement of member citizens across borders) so it is not as much of an issue for us, but France and Germany and others are, and for them it would not be acceptable.

JB Would you favor a change to EU rules that would allow Britain to agree to free movement of peoples between, say, Canada, Australia, and maybe the US? This would be an agreement that would be of actual benefit to the ordinary people of the UK.

LF If this would be beneficial to the British people, it is by all means something that should be pursued. If there are artificial rules which today stand in the way of something like that, then they should be re-examined. After all, the purpose of government is to benefit its citizens, and if it's actions get in the way of that they should be fixed.

JB Oh, you're so Anglo-Saxon! I don't think Villepin would agree with that.

LF And therein lies the rub.

JB. Looking at some specific issues of transatlantic trade integration, specifically in the defense area. As you know, the UK enjoys particularly privileged access to US defense technology, matched perhaps only by Australia. It's a level of access the Pentagon does not feel comfortable with extending to all of Europe. If European defense industry continues along the lines it has taken in the past few years, it is more likely that rather than Europe as a whole gaining better access to American defense technology, it is more likely that Britain, as it gets more tied in to European structures, might find its access cut off. On the other hand, there's been talk of a US-UK defense industry approach that would, in turn for some coordination on issues such as third-country destination control, would give the UK even more privileged access to the US defense industry, including better access to financial participation in the US defense industry, or easier mergers between US and UK defense contracting firms. Such an approach might currently be contrary to EU regulation. Assuming this approach would be seen as advantageous to the UK, which I think is likely the case, would you be in favor of exploring it?

LF. I certainly think that such a thing should be explored, although it might come up against practical difficulties such as the large investment Britain has made in the European Single Fighter project. Much of the benefit to the UK would come in the form of after-sale maintenance and support, and to reap that benefit the UK would have to stay involved. Therefore any future directions for the UK would have to take into account the need to stay plugged in to certain existing European commitments.

However, there are strategic considerations for the US and the UK alike. Ultimately, the US has a clear strategic interest in Europe's continuation of the China arms embargo, and the US must and will act in its strategic interest there. China has a horrible human rights record. There are a number of such strategic issues where the US will see its strategic interests differently from the Europeans. Britain needs to be very firm with its European partners, because Britain has much more to lose if the US decides to stop sharing technology.

JB From an American viewpoint, Britain had unparalleled access in the development process of the Joint Strike Fighter. Britain continues to be a partner in that project at a level at which no other foreign partner is permitted. The question is, you have your sunk cost in the EuroFighter, and very sunk cost it is, while you have much to gain by further cooperation with the US on the model of the Joint Strike Fighter, so I guess this is something you will have to trade off. To what extent have you discussed these issues on this trip?

LF I have been discussing the wider context of the US-UK defense relationship, and particularly the effect of the China arms embargo issue. To me, the stance on China should be a no-brainer for the current British government. I suppose they hare now seeing sense on that issue, but I wish they could be more robust.

JB This gets us to a very specific subset of defense issues, particularly the European Galileo project for GPS-like navigation satellites. These is a particular concern on the part of some in the defense community over the potential for Galileo to be used to support precision-guided munitions that might be sold to nations hostile to the US, and which the US could not disable if they were to be used against US or allied forces. This is in addition to more immediate concerns over radio frequency interference between Galileo and GPS. Some also feel that the commercial justification for Galileo is suspiciously thin – sort of like proposing to build a second lighthouse next to an existing one, and charging for the light beams. What will the Tory opposition's position on Galileo be?

LF I think it's the right of any sovereign nation to seek to assure that it has independence in terms of its control over its own defenses. But what we have to be careful of is a trend in Europe to see itself apart from and in competition with the US rather than a partner.

JB To return to the Asia-Pacific area: you made an interesting remark in your recent speech here, where you noted that Europeans work from a map in which Europe is in the center and China is in the periphery while Americans work from maps in which America is the center. But in fact the map of the 20th century was Atlantic-centric, which the 21st's is Pacific-centric. Going around the Pacific rim, you of course see many prominent Chinese-speaking cities, and a number of Japanese-speaking ones, but the other big presence around the Pacific is the English-speaking cities. The Pacific century is not going to be solely a Chinese century, but one shared between China, Japan, India, and the Anglosphere. Britain, unlike the other European nations, has special and strong ties with this Pacific Anglosphere, and thus a window on an important part of the future. How can the UK take advantage of this special position?

LF First of all, that's a very good example of why the idea of a Common European Foreign Policy including Britain, given Britain's unique trading position, and different historical perspective in the region, is a non-starter. You can have elements of commonality in foreign policy, but you can't have a common policy.

JB The lowest common denominator is too low and too common…

LF Exactly. Britain's friendship, and specific relationship to India and the Indian subcontinent, has never fully exploited the potential created by the fact that Britian still has a great deal of human knowledge and ties, and goodwill with that region. I am afraid that we have been too hung up on the attitudes of several generations of people who have been so tied up in guilt trips about the past that they cannot see the opportunities that present themselves. India and its neighbors have got to be a major area in which Britain has got to be concentrating its negotiations for joint initiatives, such as in the insurance industry.

I experienced a delightful compliment recently in Sri Lanka when someone described to me a local government that was conspicuously non-corrupt as being run on the “English model". It takes us back to your point that's there's a great deal to exploit in all that common experience.

The problem with Britain is that since the end of the 1960s we've tended to act as if the bottom of the map was at the southern border of Greece. We've got to look beyond at the enormous opportunities. The difference is in a very very tightly competitive global economy the differences will be at the margins. And if you've got a historical advantage, if you've got a cultural advantage, if you've got a linguistic advantage these are things that can make a difference.

JB I was reading some papers by linguists noting that there's been a sea-change in the nature of the use of the English language in India, that in the past 10 years English has gone from a sort of prestige display among the upper middle classes, to, because of call centers and software development, something that is sought after ardently by lower-income Indians as a means of self-advancement.. However, this is beginning to have more than a purely economic impact, as interaction with American and British people, and more familiarity with attitudes, has begun to change their own attitudes, for example reportedly making women less amenable to arranged marriages. This is creating a new world, neither colonial, nor reactively post-colonial, but something altogether new and different. How can the US and UK take advantage of these sorts of phenomena to make new connections?

LF English is becoming a tool of cultural empowerment, and it's becoming difficult to separate the language from the culture, one from another. It's bound to have an effect. Some of these more subtle effects, such as you're describing, have gone almost unnoticed. But it is providing liberations, as you've rightly stated, to many people. How can we best take advantage of this, to give our businesses head starts in other markets?

I was always very keen, when I was in government, on expanding the role of the British Council, top provide a great outreach linguistically and culturally. It's also a very good manager of projects on the ground. I would greatly expand its scope; if we are providing English-language lessons, why not expand them to explain more of our economic and cultural ideas?

JB Do you think more use could be made of the Commonwealth organization?

LF Sometimes I think we don't deserve the Commonwealth. Most of our European partners would give their right arms to be a t the center of such an organization, with such an economic and political potential of the nations in it. And Britain has given far too little attention to it, especially under the current government.

JB Because of its obsession with Europe?

LF Yes. It's been neglected as a common tool, which might have been quite useful for common goals. But for some on the left, the Commonwealth is just an embarrassment as a reminder of Empire, which they have a lot of residual guilt about.

JB. Finally, what can you say about the Tory leadership race?

LF. We must decide who is the best candidate to sell the particular agenda of the party. Therefore, we must first decide what the agenda of the party is, before jumping into the personalities. If we just jump into the personalities, with little debate about who we are and what we want, then I think the danger is the electorate won’t listen to the message of the party. When Margaret Thatcher came into the leadership there had been this process of agenda debate; she came in with a clear message to sell.

JB. But Thatcher came in late in the leadership selection process (in 1979) and only because certain other candidates were blocked.

LF. This is one of the great traditions of the Conservative Party – you can become leader just because you are not someone else. Ultimately, because in our (first-past-the-post electoral) system we do not build external coalitions, therefore to win you must build an internal coalition. People forget this is what Margaret Thatcher did, she was the strongest when she took pains to be as inclusive as possible in the party.

JB. In America we call it the Big Tent.

LF. That is a requirement, because if you have a small tent you can’t win elections.

JB. It’s amazing how many people seem not to notice that.

There’s been some comment that in the recent British national election the Tories lost a number of seats – the number put about is around 25 – because Euroskeptic voters unhappy with the Tory stance gave votes to the two pro-withdrawal parties, the UK Independence Party, and Veritas. It’s hard to say whether a stronger stance would have delivered all 25 seats to the Tories, but certainly there was some minor-party effect here.

LF. I think the number of seats that actually might have been changed was more like 10, but that still would have reduced the Labor government’s majority from 66 to 46.

JB Yes, it is significant in any case. How do you think the Tories should deal with this question the next time around, assuming Europe is still an issue, which I think it will be?

LF. We must start by making our own agenda clear. Last week in the House of Commons I stated that we no longer agreed with the goal set forth in the European treaties, of “ever closer union” within the EU. I think that this direction will help avoid some of the bitterness we have been seeing, because the Tories have had a great deal of resentment at the way we’ve been dragged into increasing centralization and loss of sovereignty by the ratchet-like process of the working of European bureaucracy.

JB. It’s amazing that such a statement had never been made under the leadership of William Hague or Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom were strong Euroskeptics.

LF. It seems like a fairly obvious step to take. I think it’s part of an approach of presenting an agenda for the next election that focuses on positive things people want to see, so that objections, for example, to European bureaucracy are not seen as negative, but as consequences of an alternative positive policy.

I think we need to present a picture of optimism. I think there are things we can learn from President Bush about how to take elements of the policies of the Right and explain how conservative social and economic policy is not about helping the wealthy escape from public provision but about how to improve the quality of public provision for all. That’s a positive skill.

JB. Sociologically, there’s been the observation that the Tory voter has been getting older, and among the younger voters, the Tories are now doing better among the less-educated sectors than among the highly-educated. Certainly there’s been a lot of social change in the UK over the last twenty-five, and especially the last ten years. You’re seeing the same kind of exurban, high-tech, entrepreneurial, multi-ethnic, freeway-oriented conurbation development that we’re seeing here on our urban fringes. This is not the old country Tory Britain, nor the old mine-and-mill Labor Britain; this is a third and new Britain that is politically up for grabs. Obviously Tony Blair was hoping New Labor would be their natural party; the Liberal Democrats want to be their natural party, and of the Tories who seem to be thinking about how to reach these people, I mentioned you in my book as one. My question is, what is you message for this third Britain that seems to be emerging?

LF. We have to understand that the greatest characteristic of this group is aspiration. We have got to get a party that they are comfortable with as sharing their aspirations for security and prosperity for themselves and their families. That they will take part ion the riches offered by a free market economy that is growing well and that is not burdened by government regulation at the same time, that when it comes to education and the provision of public services, and that the government will assure that they get access to the services that the government does not provide itself.

JB. Two final questions. One is the inevitable one, which is where does Liam Fox stand in regard to the leadership race? Might you be a candidate in this round?

LF. I might. I’ll make my decision over the summer. (Note: Liam Fox has now, of course, declared his candidacy. JB) None of us have had a proper break since before the election. When I was practicing medicine I advised people not to make major life decisions when under a great deal of stress. I might actually apply my advice to myself.

JB. But you’ve decided to get married in that time.

LF. Well, I think one major life decision in that time is enough.

JB. The last question is about a remark you made recently in regard to the much-discussed religion gap between the US and Britain. You observed something that is in accordance with my own observations, that the amount of religiosity in the US is probably overstated, while the depth of religious sentiment in Britain is probably understated. Could you say something to our readers about that?

LF. The very clear and overt link between religion and politics that exists in the US is something that most British people would not be comfortable with in UK political life. The British have much more of a sense of religion as something that is personal and private. And that may result in there being less of a gap in reality than is indicated by the polls or by the way it is discussed in politics. One of the problems may be in the way the established churches think they are obliged to reflect life as it is lived today rather than setting out a direction of life as they want to see it.

JB. Do you think that the whole issue of the establishment of the churches should be revisited?

LF. At a time when we have so many other social problems, so many other issues, so many foreign policy challenges, we don’t need to spend our time dealing with how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Posted by Jim Bennett at September 27, 2005 04:25 PM

Well, here is a comment from the fellow-blogger. Liam Fox is a non-starter, having several unpleasant episodes in his political career. Among other things, he was the Vice-Chairman of the Party in charge of forcing the Conservative Members of the European Parliament back into the federalist, europhile, corporatist, Chistian-Democrat European People's Party (EPP) group. They had left under Iain Duncan Smith and had to go back under Howard, ordered by Fox. Among other things, this scuppered the chances of forming a new right-wing, free-market, eurosceptic grouping with some of the new East European parties. So they were let down as well. There are other things about Fox that go beyond usual political deviousness but this is the most relevant one. Lincoln, indeed. Pshaw!!!!

Posted by: Helen at September 27, 2005 07:20 PM

Whoever the next Tory leader is, he will probably have some major shortcomings from the Eurosceptic standpoint. So, here's the question: do you choose the least obnoxious one based on the past (and who would that be? How does Davis come put?) or are there some other criteria?

Remember, the Lincoln comparison must not be made from the viewpoint of today or even 1865, it must be made from 1860, when his faults were quite evident and his virtues less so.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at September 27, 2005 07:39 PM

There's shortcomings and there's total dishonesty. Besides, Fox is not a runner. Maybe because he spent too much time over the pond, forgetting where the votes are.

Of course, you are right, Jim, none of the so-far declared candidates are any good from that point of view (and, indeed, any other). They do not believe in British independence or small government or strong defence or individual freedom, all of which are Conservative ideas. They do not, as it happens, believe in anything. Which means that I, like the vast majority of this country's population, care not a fig for the next leader of the Party. Until the Conservatives show signs of pulling themselves together (and, actually, there are some signs sub rosa) we cannot be bothered with them. Our task is to guide what passes for public opinion. The Tories will have to fall into line. That's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.

Posted by: Helen at September 27, 2005 07:57 PM