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Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Day At Bruges (Group)

Yesterday I spent the day at the Bruges Group ( conference called Integration Marching On. I went, despite knowing the deep Toryism/Thatcherism/Neo-Conism on the organisation ,as I knew a couple of EU-critical people going there who wouldn't try to buttonhole me with the words "Brussels- it's a communist conspiracy gone mad" while carrying a copy of the Daily Mail.

I'm terrible when trying to estimate how many people turn up at meetings, but I would say about 100. There were a few young people (or young looking people) but there were a lot of balding heads. As almost always with political meetings, the audience was mostly male, although there was a smattering of female Tory undergrads. There was even a handful of non-Caucasian guests, which would have down gone well with Richard Barnbrook, who is the British National Party's main man in London. Looking like a pub singer appearing as Tony Hadley out of Spandau Ballet on Stars In Their Eyes, Mr. Barnbrook was the sole BNPer there (it seemed). I'm sure those who like to smear all the EU-critical as racist extremists will have a field day with the BNP presence at this meeting. He did ask one question, when no-one knew who he was, and you could sense that the temperature was cooling after saying he was BNP. Hopefully the Bruges Group will cut out this bit when they produce the DVD. Of course, Mr. B has a bit of experience with video, so he could help.

Most of the people there were either Cons or UKIP. Of course, the Cons were split between David Davis and David Cameron supporters. Most seemed to be DDers, the only prominent DCer being one of the platform speakers, MEP Daniel Hannan, who, to be honest, probably supports Cameron on class grounds ("us smug ex-public schoolboys should stick together against the great unwashed, old boy"). However, one thing I noticed whether or not people were Cons or UKIP was that none of them could admit that they lost the May General Election. Since there is little chance of a referendum on any EU issue before the next general election, what can any of this lot do of any practical use to stop the EU?

Anyway, the morning session consisted of speeches by 4 platform speakers followed by a Q&A session. The first was Howard Flight, ex-Tory MP- the one who had to resign before the last election after being covertly recorded saying that the next Tory government would make much bigger tax cuts than they were publicly mooting. His speech consisted of saying how the rest of the EU had to "reform" their economies in a Thatcherite manner, blah, blah, blah. He mentioned the euro in passing once. As I think the euro is the main reason that the eurozone's economies are doing so badly (ie one interest rate for 12 countries does not work), abolishing the euro would do a hell of lot more to help Europe's peoples than abolishing their welfare systems and throwing them to the corporate wolves. Mr F. also said that the UK should stay in the EU to make sure the EU didn't descend into anarchy.

Next speaker was Marc Glendening of the Democracy Movement, whose presence convinced me that the meeting wouldn't be that bad. He argued that what the EU represented was "Post-Modern Authoritarianism". It was all clever stuff, arguing that Blair's government and its gurus talk completely obtuse gibberish (the essence of post-modernism) to hide the networks of elites across the EU who use the obtuse nature of the EU's treaties to keep hold of power beyond form any democratic accountability. Furthermore, Marc argued that EU-critical discourse had to change. It was no good just labeling the EU as a "socialist superstate": the treaties allow it to be all things to all people. I don't think this went down well with the audience. However, as the Cons & UKIP barely got a third of the vote at this years' General Election, how do they expect to gain a majority in a future EU referendum if they do not change their language to attract people who don't see the EU as a "socialist superstate"? Marc also said the EU-critical should emphasising the issue of democracy not nationalism; Britain could not simply withdraw without taking account of what was going on in the rest of the EU.

From the intellectually sublime to the ridiculous: some idiot from the Campaign Against Political Correctness. John Midgely looked like a saloon bar bore and sounded like one as well. He quoted a lot of examples of "PC" and tried to link the EU to the use of "PC" language, but he never once defined "PC" (you can check his website as well- there is no definition there either). I somehow doubt whether he could define "Political Correctness". At least it wasn't called the Campaign Against Political Correctness Gone Mad. Perhaps one will emerge ("SPLITTERS!!").

The fourth speaker was Lindsay Jenkins, who has written several books on how Britain is being destroyed by the EU. I did buy a copy of her new tome Disappearing Britain and had it autographed. She said a lot how the EU is behind regionalism and the breakdown of local government. All very well, but I think she has no idea that there are radical regionalists who are opposed to the EU. Are we all waiting for our cheques from Brussels as well? Without straying too far from the subject, I see radical devolutionists and EU-critical campaigners as being on the same side: fighting for decentralisation and democracy. How people can't see the logical connection is beyond me. Anyhow, at least Miss Jenkins has a grasp of her subject, unlike the previous speaker.

After that came the questions from the floor. It seems some people don't seem to know the difference between asking a question and making a statement. It does seem that many Brugesists just want somewhere to air their frustrations. Furthermore, it seems many of those selected seemed to have no idea that other people wanted to ask questions/make statements as well. I'm not a great fan of "soundbite culture", but yesterday you could see the advantage of keeping it short and snappy.

Lunch was not impressive. One glass of decent wine, a glass of orange juice & a small plate of not great sandwiches (has the "euro-sarnie" arrived?).

The afternoon session had 3 speakers. Christopher Booker made a good speech; however when I checked his book "The Great Deception" I found no mention of the European Round Table of Industrialists! You can't talk about the last 20 years of so of the EU project without bringing in the ERT. That's the trouble with labeling the EU a "socialist superstate"- you can't explain why capitalists support it (or why so many socialists oppose the EU). As I managed to articulate talking to people over lunch (it must have been the red wine) the EU is the ultimate Third Way institution- it brings together the worst aspects of corporate capitalism and state socialism.

Although scathing of both Tory leadership contenders for not understanding the EU, looking through his book (well, co-authored with Richard North: more below) Mr Booker seems to let Mrs. Thatcher off the hook. Sorry, I think when it comes to the EU, Thatcher was, to use a phrase of Lenin's, a useful idiot. Anyone can talk anti-EU when out of office, like Trotsky could talk of liberty when he wasn't in power crushing all opposition to the Bolshevik regime. Remember these facts:

Thatcher supported Britain's first application to join in 1961-63;
Thatcher was a member of the Heath Cabinet which joined the EEC (as was) in 1973;
Thatcher campaigned for a "Yes" vote in the 1975 Referendum on whether Britain should stay in;
Thatcher signed the Single European Act, which introduced Qualified Majority Voting (undermining the national veto) in 1985, and got it pushed through Parliament on a 3 line whip after a severely guillotined debate in 1986; &
Thatcher allowed Sterling to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1990.

If actions speak louder than words, Thatcher was a big a "traitor" when it came to dealing with the EU as Heath, Major or Blair.

Anyway, straying a bit there! Next speaker was aforementioned Con MEP Daniel Hannan. Like Mr. Booker, he emphasised that, despite the Dutch & French "No" votes the EU institutions were acting like the EU Constitution was already in place. However, although the EU's people are going through the motions, their faith has been shaken by the "No" votes. Mr Hannan did come across as a Tory Boy though. The other speaker was Kenneth Minogue, who made good points about having more rights but less freedom than when he was younger, but it wasn't much connected to the EU.

The Q&A session seem to end up with the same boring questioners as the first session!
However, the question of the police came up (the number of police authorities is soon to be reduced from 43 to 12) and Mr H was very animated about how we are becoming a police state and how direct democracy would make public bodies like the police accountable. He'll be advocating workers' control of factories next...

I had an orange juice at afternoon tea (although I could murder a pint by then) then it was a session on Alternatives to the EU. There were two speakers. Richard North co-wrote The Great Deception with Christopher Booker. Once I start reading it, and get to stodgy parts, I'll assume Dr. North wrote them. Blimey, he is a boring speaker. At the end of a long day I was surprised to see nobody snoring, although I saw a lot of suppressed yawns behind hands (myself included). Moreover, his message was hardly going to inspire the troops. It was virtually impossible to pull out the EU. We are too enmeshed in its rules and regulations. We would have to start from scratch. The only hope would be if I get given lots of research money and I can spend years researching the alternatives.

In contrast to Eeyore, Ruth Lea was a veritable Tigger. Now of the Centre for Policy Studies, once of the Institute of Directors, I was expecting a hectoring Thatcherite but she was very jolly & lively. Furthermore, she saw no real problem about pulling out. There was definitely a Punch & Judy atmosphere on the platform between the two Rs. The only problem with Ruth Lea's outlook was that instead of embracing the EU, we should embrace total global free trade and not worry about the effects of competing with China & India. Without going off at another tangent, being blase about taking on those wannabe industrial superpowers is not particularly clever. It is the sort of stuff that gives the likes of the day's token BNPer hope for mass support in the future.

Anyway, that was a version of what happened yesterday. I couldn't cover everything, but I hope it gives a flavour. However,I get the feeling that if I go in 12 months time it will be the same type of audience with the same type of speakers going on about the same sort of subjects.


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