Without exposing the Guilty Men in the Eurozone debate, we won’t learn for the future

Far from being xenophobic and mad, as they were derided at the time, many Conservatives including Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, and John Redwood, showed ‘remarkable prescience and moral courage in fighting for our monetary sovereignty.’

Even now, not everyone can see the real worth of the Euro
Ryan Bourne
On 23 September 2011 09:52

As the powers of the EU continue to press for fiscal integration, as a long-term solution to the euro crisis, we would do well to re-read the words of William Hague from 2001:

‘The question of whether we scrap the pound …will determine whether we live in a free and independent country or whether we become part of a larger bloc.’

Far from being xenophobic and mad, as they were derided at the time, many Conservatives including Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, and John Redwood, showed ‘remarkable prescience and moral courage in fighting for our monetary sovereignty.’

‘Cast as “men of intellectual violence”, who were consumed by “last-ditch extremism…who “stoked the phobic fire and sceptic propaganda so high,”’ these were the men who against the tide of political and institutional opinion, saved us from the current car crash that the people of Greece, Ireland and Portugal are experiencing.’

And it is in honour of these men that today the Centre for Policy Studies publishes a book by Peter Oborne and Frances Weaver, which outlines the role played by the villains of the piece.

The ‘Guilty Men.’

Through recalling the context and methods that pro-euro politicians, journalists and institutions applied, the fabrications they produced, the fears they played upon, and reputations they trashed – we are able to learn valuable lessons for the present.

It is an opportunity for us to re-write the conventionally held view of history, that the Conservatives’ mistrust of the euro and underlying Little England-ism made them unfit to govern, and it was the sane pro-euro New Labour that provided rational, pragmatic perspective. 

No. As Oborne and Weaver outline, the euro-sceptics have been proven not just right, but right for the right reasons.

The book offers a unique opportunity to relive what was, on reflection, probably the great debate of our times. And if you think the AV debate was sensationalised and puerile, the evidence will shock.

Journalists such as the late Hugo Young, Diane Coyle, Andrew Rawnsley, Johann Hari (of course), David Aaronovitch and Philip Stevens queued up to present the pro-euro grouping as sane and rational, whilst portraying the sceptics as espousing irrational nationalistic vitriol. At one stage, Aaronvitch even suggested ‘Europhobes’ as viewing German fascism at its height as its “global age.”

William Hague was drowned out as an extremist – his economic arguments ignored. Worse still, Iain Duncan Smith was labelled a fascist, constantly having to play down tenuous media links with extremist organisations. Lord Owen – pro-EU but anti-euro –was written about by Aaronovitch and compared with Enoch Powell and Oswald Mosley.

In truth many on the pro-euro side were lazy, unwilling to engage on the complex implications of the economics behind the debate and instead resorting to harshly provocative language.

But the reason that their mistaken and libellous arguments were given such an airing, was that several of the key media and business institutions – namely, the BBC, the FT and the CBI – warped the debate itself.

The BBC’s pro-euro bias has been tracked extensively by Minotaur media. Euro-sceptics were not granted anywhere near the same time to defend their position, allowing a free run for the europhiles to push the agenda.

The FT was perhaps even more culpable – as the voice of the City it gave respectability to the scare stories that Britain would lose out hugely in foreign direct investment by remaining outside of the single currency. These proved false. But it also played down warnings about overheating in Ireland and even as late as 2008 claimed the euro had been “a remarkable success.”

Unbelievably, whilst many including Messrs Clegg and Alexander have changed tack, there are many who ignore the clear evidence in front of them.

The FT’s Philip Stevens is still beating the euro drum. Tony Blair, who did so much to undermine public decency by associating ‘Europhobes’ with 20th Century racism, still claims that one day the UK should join. Peter Mandelson is still, well, Peter Mandelson.

Some of the main proponents of Britain’s entry, however, have gone eerily silent. Despite the Eurozone being a preeminent story almost daily, both Rawnsley and Aaronovitch have attempted to detach themselves from the issue. It is time for the hands to go up, and the apologies to begin.

This sorry episode shows the dangers of swallowing conventional wisdom. It is only conventional because of the way in which the debate is framed. Instead we should be sceptical about cross-party alliances, and fearful of a repetition of the use of exactly the same scare tactics and smear techniques as the future of the euro is discussed.

This is important, and the key reason for the timing of the book.

As the future of the UK’s role in Europe is debated, and future treaties discussed, it is vital that a reasoned and cool-headed approach to policy is taken. The debates must be tackled on their merits.

The very same individuals and institutions highlighted in the book will no doubt seek to tarnish those who oppose greater EU integration again. In fact, the Liberal Democrat conference has already given us an insight into this mind-set.

Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, fired a warning shot in his conference speech: “If you fail to compromise, if you fail to seek the common ground that unites us, if you insist that only you have the answers, if you keep beating the anti-European drum, if you slaver over tax cuts for the rich, then you will put in peril the most crucial achievement of this Government.”

No, Chris. Failure of the euro currency is putting millions of Europeans in peril.

And what about the BBC, now headed up by both Chris Patten and Diane Coyle? The Beeb has shown its pro-EU bias systematically. And Diane Coyle was one of the most virulent pro-euro campaigners during her time at the Independent, once describing those who opposed it as guilty of “Little Englandism in the language of rational economic argument.” Reform of the BBC and recognition of these findings is a must.

But equally importantly, we should learn to cherish eccentricity and heed the warnings of figures who speak out against the grain. People like Bill Cash; John Redwood; Anthony Cowgill; Ruth Lea. They all fought for what was right, in the face of hostile and spiteful campaigning.

As the stifling effect of the euro pushes youth unemployment towards 50 per cent in Spain, it’s time to re-assess who really was the ‘nasty party’ which lacked a sense of social compassion.

Ryan Bourne is the Economic and Statistical Researcher at the Centre for Policy Studies. He tweets as @RyanCPS . All quotations used in this article are fully referenced in ‘Guilty Men’ by Peter Oborne and Frances Weaver, published today.

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