Ferdinand Mount

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Ferdinand Mount

First Con­fes­sion: A Sort of Mem­oir by Chris Pat­ten

Kind of Blue: A Po­lit­i­cal Mem­oir by Ken Clarke

First Con­fes­sion:

A Sort of Mem­oir by Chris Pat­ten.

Lon­don: Allen Lane, 312 pp., £20.00

Kind of Blue:

A Po­lit­i­cal Mem­oir by Ken Clarke.

Lon­don: Pan, 525 pp., $15.95 (pa­per)

His­tory to the de­feated doesn’t even say “alas,” it just cuts them dead. In the Bri­tish Con­ser­va­tive Party es­pe­cially, the waters of obliv­ion close over the de­fend­ers of de­serted or­tho­dox­ies like ap­pease­ment and the Corn Laws. So now with the Tory Europhiles. For a gen­er­a­tion and more, to be “a good Euro­pean” was the pass­port to pro­mo­tion in the party. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Young Con­ser­va­tives prided them­selves on be­ing the largest youth move­ment in the free world, and they were as pas­sion­ately de­voted to the Com­mon Mar­ket as they were to ta­ble ten­nis and the twist. By con­trast, the op­po­nents of Britain’s en­try in 1973 were a sullen mi­nor­ity, eas­ily writ­ten off as crusty nos­tal­gists for the Em­pire. In the 1975 ref­er­en­dum on Britain’s con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship, they made a wretched show­ing along­side the di­nosaurs of the Old Left. Enoch Pow­ell and Michael Foot shar­ing a plat­form looked like a tableau vi­vant of the wrong side of his­tory.

In ret­ro­spect, it is re­mark­able how soon that tide be­gan to turn. Al­ready by the late 1980s the YCs had come un­der the con­trol of the anti-Euro­pean pro-Em­pire right. The Fed­er­a­tion of Con­ser­va­tive Stu­dents had been closed down in 1986 for its scan­dalous racist an­tics by the party chair­man, Nor­man Teb­bit. The YCs them­selves were closed down as an em­bar­rass­ment in 1998. The party’s fu­ture di­rec­tion was be­com­ing clear. The painful strug­gle that John Ma­jor en­dured in 1992 to push through Par­lia­ment the Maas­tricht Treaty, which cre­ated the Euro­pean Union, was only the most con­spic­u­ous sign that “the bas­tards,” as Ma­jor so del­i­cately dubbed them, were on a long-term roll. As­pir­ing Con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates had to take on the pro­tec­tive col­oration of Euroskep­ti­cism to have much hope of se­lec­tion.

To­day, as the re­main­ing Re­main­ers pick their way through the de­bris of the ref­er­en­dum of June 2016, they hear only the de­ri­sive cries of the vic­to­ri­ous Brex­i­teers: “You lost, get over it, stop moan­ing.” Anal­y­sis of the re­sults of the gen­eral elec­tion that Theresa May so fool­ishly called in June 2017 shows that the Con­ser­va­tives owed their sur­vival to the in­flux of mil­lions of Leavers. All that is left of the great Europhile gen­er­a­tion is their mem­oirs. If re­venge is a dish best served cold, we are in for a ver­i­ta­ble smor­gas­bord.


Pat­ten and Ken Clarke are the two most at­trac­tive sur­vivors of that gen­er­a­tion: ge­nial, un­stuffy char­ac­ters, eas­ily reach­ing for the slang—“gob­s­macked,” “dou­ble whammy”—that doesn’t trip off the lips of their stiffer col­leagues. Even their book ti­tles tell you some­thing— the fa­mil­iar first names, the self­dep­re­ca­tion in the sub­ti­tles. (Kind of Blue is bor­rowed from the Miles Davis al­bum, Clarke be­ing an ob­ses­sive jazz buff more likely to be found tap­ping time with his Hush Pup­pies at Ron­nie Scott’s than at the Athenaeum.)

The two men came from mod­est back­grounds to oc­cupy most of the great of­fices of state, both of them of­fer­ing the safe pair of hands that the state gropes for in fraught mo­ments. Clarke’s fa­ther was an elec­tri­cian in the lo­cal Not­ting­hamshire col­liery. Pat­ten’s fam­ily had em­i­grated from Ire­land to es­cape the hor­rors of the Famine. It is hard to imag­ine a sharper con­trast with Pat­ten’s own se­cure and happy child­hood in the sub­ur­ban lanes of Perivale. The gar­den smelled of hon­ey­suckle, and there were tiny new pota­toes from the veg­etable patch that his mother fried in ba­con fat. Pat­ten’s fa­ther, the lov­able Frank, was a not very suc­cess­ful mu­sic pub­lisher, though he was re­spon­si­ble for one of my fa­vorite songs of the early 1950s, “She wears red feath­ers and a huly-huly skirt.” Fa­ther and son were both fine crick­eters and keen sup­port­ers of Eng­land and Black­pool Foot­ball Club, just as Clarke fa­ther and son—an equally happy duo—would traipse off to see Not­ting­hamshire play cricket at Trent Bridge. Clarke and Pat­ten are look­ers-for­ward, an ad­mirable qual­ity in life but not ideal for a mem­oirist, and in both cases, I would like to have had more of those idyl­lic early days.

Pat­ten and Clarke sailed through their schol­ar­ship ex­ams into St. Bene­dict’s, Eal­ing, and Not­ting­ham High School re­spec­tively, both first-rate schools that re­served a gen­er­ous tranche of places for schol­ar­ship boys and pro­vided a springy lad­der out of the sub­urbs. Pat­ten has re­mained an un­wa­ver­ing though not un­crit­i­cal Catholic all his life, and he is grate­ful to St. Bene­dict’s and sad to see it rav­aged in re­cent years by hor­rific sto­ries of child abuse. He says of him­self, “I was in clover, never bored, well taught, not re­motely bol­shie,” and he sailed on to Bal­liol Col­lege, Ox­ford, just as Clarke did to Gonville and Caius, Cam­bridge. Those who per­sist in re­gard­ing Britain as a closed, caste-rid­den so­ci­ety should re­flect on these not un­typ­i­cal ex­am­ples of post­war likely lads. Eng­land, and still more Scot­land, has al­ways been a more open so­ci­ety than it ap­peared, if not as open as it should be.

Her­bert Henry Asquith, prime min­is­ter dur­ing World War I, de­scribed Bal­liol men like him­self as pos­sess­ing “the tran­quil con­scious­ness of an ef­fort­less su­pe­ri­or­ity.” Pat­ten tells us that this de­scrip­tion is not help­ful or ac­cu­rate. But then he gives a list of con­spic­u­ous twen­ti­eth-cen­tury alumni of the col­lege: Ted Heath, Roy Jenk­ins, De­nis Healey, the Lord Chief Jus­tice Tom Bing­ham, the Guardian colum­nist Hugo Young, and Ian Gil­mour. I have to say that, in their dif­fer­ent ways, ef­fort­less su­pe­ri­or­ity was ex­actly what they all ex­uded.

This is not a mere so­cial foot­note. It is de­cid­edly rel­e­vant to the ca­sus belli of our times. For all the above­men­tioned were also pas­sion­ate, un­wa­ver­ing sup­port­ers of the Euro­pean ideal. Tom Bing­ham was the first judge to urge that the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights be in­cor­po­rated into English law. Hugo Young wrote the most in­flu­en­tial polemics in sup­port of Bri­tish par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Euro­pean en­ter­prise. It was Roy Jenk­ins and his co­terie of pro-Euro­pean Labour sup­port­ers who as­sisted Ed­ward Heath in get­ting the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ties Bill through the House of Commons.

You could be for­given for see­ing the whole thing as a Bal­liol con­spir­acy of the elite against the un­en­light­ened. That word “elite” did not fig­ure much in po­lit­i­cal de­bate un­til the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign of 2016, when it went toxic. “Elites” or “ex­perts” sud­denly be­came Public En­emy No. 1 in the rhetoric of Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, as they did in the rhetoric of Don­ald Trump. The coun­try, we were told, was be­ing dragged in the wrong di­rec­tion by an ex­clu­sive clique of know-it-alls who were out of touch with the real needs and de­sires of the peo­ple. Such an out­cry was not un­known in the United States. But it was rather new in the United King­dom.

When the Daily Mail of Novem­ber 4, 2016, car­ried the head­line EN­E­MIES OF THE PEO­PLE on its story about the High Court’s rul­ing that Par­lia­ment must have a say on trig­ger­ing the Brexit process, there was a col­lec­tive fris­son, shared by quite a few peo­ple who voted Leave. It was not sim­ply that if the ob­ject of leav­ing the EU was to re­store the sovereignty of the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment, then it seemed only log­i­cal that Par­lia­ment should ap­prove the process. It was also the im­plicit as­sump­tion that the Will of the Peo­ple had the right to brush aside ev­ery­thing else, Par­lia­ment and the rule of law in­cluded, a doc­trine that owed more to Robe­spierre than to Burke.

Pat­ten’s ac­count of his thir­teen years in the House of Commons seems worlds away from these alarm­ing events. Elected for Bath in 1979, af­ter five years as the pre­co­cious head of the Con­ser­va­tive Re­search Depart­ment, he im­me­di­ately fell into the com­pany of a con­ge­nial bunch of tal­ented young MPs like him­self in the lib­eral wing of the party. The whips called them the Blue Chips, which sug­gests a clique of well-heeled aris­to­crats, but though a cou­ple of them were the sons of peers, most were mid­dle-class mer­i­to­crats like Pat­ten.

For Pat­ten, the com­pany of kin­dred spir­its like Gil­mour, Wil­liam Walde­grave, and Tris­tan Garel-Jones must have passed the time agree­ably. Yet per­haps for this rea­son there is some­thing flat about his ac­count of those years, which were in­deed swept by “sharp con­flicts” and “tem­pes­tu­ous pas­sions.” It is as though Pat­ten and his friends scarcely min­gled with any­one else. The lead­ing fig­ures of the Thatcher Rev­o­lu­tion (or coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion)—Ge­of­frey Howe, Nigel Law­son, Nor­man Teb­bit—scarcely fig­ure. Thatcher’s chief guru, Sir Keith Joseph, was briefly Pat­ten’s boss at the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, but he has only a walk-on part as a slightly de­ranged ob­ses­sive—it was, I think, Pat­ten who

chris­tened him “the Mad Monk.” Mar­garet Thatcher her­self fig­ures mostly as a sort of stern house ma­tron who oc­ca­sion­ally shows a softer side. The great bat­tles of the pe­riod—the min­ers’ strike, the fe­ro­cious ar­gu­ments about trade union re­form and the gov­er­nance of state schools and the pri­va­tiz­ing of na­tion­al­ized in­dus­tries—all seem to be hap­pen­ing off­stage, as they would in a play by Racine or Aeschy­lus.

Pat­ten does pay du­ti­ful trib­ute to Thatcher’s achieve­ments in “mak­ing Britain gov­ern­able again,” but he does not show much in­ter­est in how it was done, and he re­mains hos­tile to her eco­nomic pol­icy, which he re­fuses to con­sider se­ri­ously. I no­ticed the same thing in his ear­lier ac­count of his trav­els around the United States on a Coolidge Fel­low­ship af­ter leav­ing Bal­liol in the late 1960s. There too tem­pes­tu­ous pas­sions were in play, new ideas up and run­ning. Pat­ten shows lit­tle in­ter­est in these de­bates, writ­ing off Rea­gan as a buf­foon, or, worse, a dis­hon­est buf­foon. He reads Hayek but does not in­hale, re­main­ing wed­ded to the old pa­tri­cian Repub­li­can Party of John Lind­say (for whom he worked and whom he came to ad­mire), Nel­son Rock­e­feller, and Ja­cob Jav­its. He is just as proud to be im­mod­er­ate in the de­fense of mod­er­a­tion as Gold­wa­ter said he was in the pro­tec­tion of lib­erty. Which is fine, ex­cept that con­tent­ment with the con­ven­tional wis­dom was un­likely to pro­vide much of an en­gine for re­form. It is no­table that the “Wets,” as the mod­er­ates came to be called, were of­ten re­sis­tant to re­form­ing any­thing much. As em­ploy­ment sec­re­tary, Jim Prior, for ex­am­ple, es­poused what he called “a step-by-step ap­proach” to the re­form of trade union law, but his in­stinct turned out to be more like Car­di­nal New­man’s “I do not ask to see the dis­tant scene; one step enough for me.” The sus­tained en­ergy came mostly from the rougher el­e­ment who would not have been wel­come at the Blue Chips’ ta­ble. But it was Ken­neth Clarke who dis­played the most con­spic­u­ous en­ergy in turn­ing Thatcher’s mantras into con­crete re­sults.

What makes Clarke’s min­is­te­rial ex­pe­ri­ence so fas­ci­nat­ing is that he passed through vir­tu­ally every depart­ment of govern­ment ex­cept the For­eign Of­fice, and in each of them he found vir­tu­ally the same sit­u­a­tion: the for­mal hi­er­ar­chy of min­is­ter and depart­ment con­cealed an ex­tra­or­di­nary covert syn­di­cal­ist re­al­ity. Al­most ev­ery­where the min­is­ter and his of­fi­cials had be­come ac­cus­tomed to do­ing lit­tle more than ac­qui­esce in the day-to-day con­trol of the trade unions and staff as­so­ci­a­tions. The 1980s Bri­tish sit­com Yes, Min­is­ter has achieved global renown as an ac­cu­rate and en­dur­ing pic­ture of bu­reau­cracy that is ap­pli­ca­ble in every coun­try and to every type of regime. Yet the pe­cu­liar, el­e­gant im­po­tence of White­hall at this pe­riod gave the pro­gram an ex­tra bite in Britain. Time and again, on ar­riv­ing in a depart­ment, Clarke en­coun­tered a staggering level of non­co­op­er­a­tion, which else­where would have been grounds for dis­missal. Af­ter agree­ing to a re­form pro­gram for the Na­tional Health Ser­vice with the prime min­is­ter, Clarke saun­tered back to his of­fice to be in­formed by the af­fa­ble per­ma­nent sec­re­tary, Sir Christo­pher France, that re­gret­tably he did not have any of­fi­cials who could be spared to work on it. So of­ten the min­is­ter was, to bor­row the em­bit­tered Nor­man La­mont’s phrase about the Ma­jor govern­ment af­ter he left it, “in of­fice but not in power.”

To have re­stored a mod­icum of gen­uine min­is­te­rial power was not the least of Thatcher’s achieve­ments, for which sub­se­quent gov­ern­ments, what­ever their aims, have rea­son to be grate­ful. And through­out her prin­ci­pal hatchet man was the most no­to­ri­ous of the Wets, Ken­neth Clarke. Af­ter her fall, as John Ma­jor’s chan­cel­lor of the ex­che­quer, he did more to re­store the public fi­nances than any other chan­cel­lor since the war. In this of­fice too, he was act­ing in a de­cid­edly Thatcherite fash­ion.

No one could have been bet­ter qual­i­fied to suc­ceed John Ma­jor as party leader in 1997. Yet Clarke was ut­terly hu­mil­i­ated in that con­test and on the two other oc­ca­sions he stood. He lost 55–45 to Wil­liam Hague, then an in­ex­pe­ri­enced pip­squeak; he lost 61–39 to the ris­i­bly in­ad­e­quate Iain Dun­can Smith; and in 2005, when David Cameron won, he was elim­i­nated in the first round. Each time, his op­po­nent claimed, with vary­ing de­grees of plau­si­bil­ity, to be a fer­vent Euroskep­tic. Each time, Clarke’s friends im­plored him to muf­fle his en­thu­si­asm for the EU. Each time, Clarke re­fused.

Twenty years ago then, the Con­ser­va­tive grass­roots were al­ready ven­omously hos­tile to the EU. And it can­not be de­nied that much of the dam­age was done by Thatcher her­self. She per­sis­tently bad­mouthed the EU and its lead­ers at every op­por­tu­nity while en­er­get­i­cally deep­en­ing the Union through the achieve­ment of the Sin­gle Mar­ket. It might be too much to say, as Pat­ten re­ports the acer­bic Jock BruceGar­dyne say­ing, that she would save the coun­try but de­stroy the Con­ser­va­tive Party and that both the coun­try and the party de­served what was com­ing to them. But she cer­tainly is a good part of the rea­son why we are where we are.

Pat­ten him­self came too late to the High Ta­ble to take much part in the strug­gle. He reached the Cab­i­net in Thatcher’s clos­ing years, and his first task was the hope­less one of try­ing to res­cue the wretched Poll Tax, which shifted the lo­cal tax bur­den from prop­erty own­ers to all adults, one of the worst ideas ever to make it onto the statute book. Any­one who re­tains any il­lu­sions about Cab­i­net govern­ment should note the craven way in which every min­is­ter ex­cept Nigel Law­son tamely as­sented to a mea­sure they knew would be a disas­ter (and even Law­son re­treated into an im­po­tent grump). In gen­eral, it seems, the Wets de­clined into a sort of in­ter­nal ex­ile, still ready to ac­cept any of­fice that came their way but un­will­ing to of­fer any sus­tained cri­tique or al­ter­na­tive.

If they were stirred at all, it was mostly by dis­like of Thatcher’s fa­vorites (sev­eral of them ad­mit­tedly easy to dis­like) and by a grow­ing dis­like of their con­stituents, whose de­vo­tion to the Blessed Mar­garet be­came even more dog­like. Pat­ten rightly re­marks that it is ex­tra­or­di­nary how many politi­cians “do not seem to like peo­ple—their vot­ers—very much: a bit like doc­tors not be­ing able to stand the sight of blood.” But he him­self is not im­mune to such aver­sions; he ad­mits that “my feel­ing about Bath fell short of dewyeyed love” and that when he lost the seat in 1992, “my sen­ti­ments at part­ing com­pany were thus not those of un­al­loyed gloom.” He par­tic­u­larly dis­liked “a num­ber of rather unattrac­tive and mildly snob­bish mid­dle-class vot­ers.” Peo­ple of this mid­dling sort he dis­misses as “the blaz­ered vote.”

But who are the real snobs here? Pat­ten had, af­ter all, worn a blazer him­self in his day. The dis­like was re­turned as heartily at West­min­ster as at Bath. Fa­mously, when the news of Pat­ten’s de­feat came up on the screen at an elec­tion party given by the Tory trea­surer, the faux bon­homme Alis­tair McAlpine, the as­sem­bled hard-lin­ers crowed “Con­ser­va­tive gain.” A re­mark­able show of loathing, con­sid­er­ing that Pat­ten was party chair­man at the time and had just helped to win them the gen­eral elec­tion.

You sense that he was not un­happy to say good­bye to do­mes­tic pol­i­tics and sail off to Hong Kong as Britain’s last gov­er­nor. His re­mit was to pre­pare for the han­dover to China in five years’ time. This was to be the be­gin­ning of a pe­riod in his life in which ev­ery­thing went right for him and he ren­dered sig­nal ser­vice to the state.

On reach­ing Hong Kong, Pat­ten im­me­di­ately in­curred the for­mal hos­til­ity of the Chi­nese govern­ment and the rather more heart­felt hos­til­ity of the Bri­tish busi­ness com­mu­nity by in­ject­ing a de­gree of democ­racy that pre­vi­ous gov­er­nors had not thought to of­fer the colony. Pat­ten took se­ri­ously Deng Xiaop­ing’s of­fer of “one coun­try, two sys­tems.” Ed­ward Heath had orig­i­nally sup­ported the ar­gu­ment that an in­jec­tion of democ­racy would be the best guar­an­tee of Hong Kong’s fu­ture free­dom. But af­ter be­ing re­peat­edly feted in Bei­jing, he aban­doned this view, invit­ing him­self to stay with Pat­ten, then go­ing around the colony say­ing what a mess the gov­er­nor was mak­ing by be­ing so con­fronta­tional. It was a typ­i­cal piece of Heath boor­ish­ness, equaled in Pat­ten’s ex­pe­ri­ence only by the time when he de­mol­ished a lob­ster and half a bot­tle of Ch­ablis dur­ing a speech­writ­ing ses­sion with­out of­fer­ing Pat­ten and his col­league so much as a sand­wich.

Pat­ten is struck by how much of his “public and pri­vate life has been spent deal­ing with the pol­i­tics of iden­tity, whose wild and car­niv­o­rous beasts have torn so many so­ci­eties to pieces and un­leashed so much havoc.” For over a decade, first in Hong Kong, then as chair­man of the In­de­pen­dent Com­mit­tee on Polic­ing in North­ern Ire­land from 1998 to 1999, and fi­nally as an EU com­mis­sioner from 1999 to 2004, he was en­gaged in the busi­ness of smudg­ing sovereignty, in the greater in­ter­ests of civil concord and prosperity. In North­ern Ire­land, the Bri­tish had fought the IRA to a stand­still, and a se­quence of peace deals wound the con­flict down un­til the prov­ince could be­gin to breathe again. The out­stand­ing is­sue that Pat­ten was sent to re­solve was that of the Royal Ul­ster Con­stab­u­lary, which by virtue of its name and the Crown on its cap badge was seen as a sec­tar­ian force by the Catholic mi­nor­ity, who risked death if they joined it, as in­deed the Protes­tants did too. Three hun­dred RUC of­fi­cers had been killed dur­ing the Trou­bles, 277 by the

IRA. Pat­ten bro­kered a new set­tle­ment un­der which the force was to be re­named the Po­lice Ser­vice of North­ern Ire­land and re­cruits were to be drawn on a fifty-fifty ba­sis, so that within ten years 30 per­cent of the force would be Catholic. The Union­ists protested, quite ac­cu­rately, that Bri­tish sovereignty over the Prov­ince was be­ing smudged to en­cour­age Repub­li­cans who con­tin­ued to hope for a united Ire­land one day. But the deal stuck. In Brussels, he was in charge of the EU’s ex­ter­nal af­fairs. He found him­self clean­ing up the moral and phys­i­cal chaos left by the breakup of Yu­goslavia. The Kosovo war had only just ended. Af­ter a shaky, hes­i­tant start, the EU was now launched on an am­bi­tious pro­gram that com­bined fi­nan­cial aid and sup­port for build­ing in­sti­tu­tions such as the courts and the po­lice with trade deals and the even­tual prospect of EU mem­ber­ship in re­turn for good be­hav­ior. By back­ing down on ex­treme na­tion­al­ist de­mands and agree­ing to ac­cept out­side su­per­vi­sion, the var­i­ous statelets could have a tol­er­a­ble fu­ture, pro­vided they ac­cepted the smudge. These were tense and of­ten dan­ger­ous days, punc­tu­ated by gun­fire, in shabby ban­dit coun­try where com­pro­mise had been re­garded as a crime. But tire­less ne­go­ti­a­tion, plus Amer­i­can back­ing (the vis­it­ing US fire­men like Richard Hol­brooke were in­dis­pens­able), made an un­easy peace stick.

These are re­mark­able achieve­ments. On the ba­sis of this ex­pe­ri­ence, Pat­ten could be for­given for be­liev­ing that it ought to be pos­si­ble to per­suade peo­ple to ac­cept smudged sovereignty, over­lap­ping iden­ti­ties, call it what you will, in any cir­cum­stances in which they would be demon­stra­bly bet­ter off as a re­sult. He re­mains puz­zled and hurt that the Bri­tish Con­ser­va­tive Party turns out to be an ex­cep­tion to this rule:

The only great re­gret I have at this stage of my life is the re­sult of the EU ref­er­en­dum and what it tells us about the pop­ulist per­ils that am­bush lib­eral in­ter­na­tional val­ues here, else­where in Europe and alas in Amer­ica too.

Pat­ten and Clarke are both happy men. They find it hard to imag­ine the un­hap­pi­ness of oth­ers, to think them­selves into the re­sent­ments of the less for­tu­nate. “Iden­ti­tar­i­an­ism,” whether they see it at work in Europe or the US, is a closed book to them. In par­tic­u­lar, Pat­ten can­not see why peo­ple fuss about sovereignty. He in­sists that

what sovereignty means in prac­tice is the power and au­thor­ity you have in re­la­tion to events at any given mo­ment. Sovereignty is not a once-and-for-all com­mod­ity, or an in­cred­i­ble shrink­ing as­set. It is not . . . like vir­gin­ity, as Ge­of­frey Howe used to note—there one mo­ment, gone the next.

But this is not how the word is com­monly—and, I think, cor­rectly—used. Sovereignty (“above­ness”) is not the same as power. It is a mat­ter of lo­cat­ing le­git­i­mate au­thor­ity. The ques­tions to be asked are not about the quan­tum of power be­ing ex­er­cised un­der that au­thor­ity. The ques­tions are: What is the na­ture of that au­thor­ity? Where does it come from? Who in the end calls the shots? Who makes the ground rules? What we are in quest of is what might be more help­fully called ul­ti­macy.

“A State ei­ther is sovereign, or is not,” to quote Sir Noel Mal­colm, our fore­most ex­pert on Hobbes. You can’t share sovereignty. It’s ple­nary and it’s ex­clu­sive. This is a doc­trine that comes straight from Hobbes via Bage­hot and Enoch Pow­ell. Bage­hot says in The English Con­sti­tu­tion:

Hobbes told us long ago, and ev­ery­body now understands that there must be a supreme au­thor­ity, a con­clu­sive power in every state on every point some­where.

When a na­tion-state joins an in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion like NATO or the UN or the EU, power, not sovereignty, is be­ing pooled. For mu­tual con­ve­nience, the par­ties may agree to smudge their sovereign­ties, but they are not thereby oblit­er­ated. Any party is en­ti­tled to leave and take back the rel­e­vant pow­ers when­ever it chooses, a right made ex­plicit in the case of the EU by the Lis­bon Treaty of 2007. Ex­actly how any na­tion-state makes its de­ci­sion to join, not to join, or to leave is up to that na­tion. The peo­ple of Nor­way and Switzer­land have both voted to stay out, sev­eral times, de­spite the wishes of their gov­ern­ments, and both na­tions have stayed out. The peo­ple of France, Ire­land, and the Nether­lands have all voted “No” to fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of the EU, and their gov­ern­ments all blithely dis­re­garded their ad­vice.

I re­mem­ber Frits Bolkestein, a Dutch EU com­mis­sioner along­side Pat­ten, lament­ing that “the peo­ple were not well in­structed.” A breath­tak­ing piece of con­de­scen­sion, but there was no doubt that the Dutch govern­ment had the right to ig­nore the vote. The poor Ir­ish peo­ple were made to vote again to give the de­sired an­swer, which they obe­di­ently did. The Bri­tish govern­ment too had the the­o­ret­i­cal right to dis­re­gard the re­sult of the 2016 ref­er­en­dum, but it would have been po­lit­i­cal sui­cide. The point is that the Euro­pean Union re­mains an as­so­ci­a­tion of na­tion-states, and is likely to re­main so, de­spite the hopes of the fed­er­al­ists and the fears of the Euro­phobes.

Nor is it true that the mis­sion creep of the EU’s in­sti­tu­tions is likely to bring its mem­bers closer and closer to the point where they ul­ti­mately lose their in­di­vid­ual sovereignty to a United States of Europe. The EU’s bud­get re­mains tiny. Ninety-nine per­cent of Bri­tish tax­pay­ers’ money is spent by Bri­tish min­is­ters to suit Bri­tish needs. In their day, many of the most fer­vent Brex­i­teers, like Law­son, Gove, and Teb­bit, car­ried out vast re­forms of the Bri­tish tax sys­tem, state schools, and trade union law with­out a squeak out of the EU. The euro re­mains hope­lessly crip­pled by the con­tin­ued re­luc­tance of Ger­many and other North­ern Euro­pean states to trans­fer funds to Greece and other Mediter­ranean mem­bers, which would be an es­sen­tial first step for the cre­ation of a fed­eral Europe. “Take back con­trol,” Pat­ten re­torts, not un­rea­son­ably—“what con­trol did we lack?”

To Pat­ten and the 48 per­cent who voted like him, it seems ob­vi­ous that EU mem­ber­ship of­fers op­por­tu­ni­ties in trade, work, travel, and na­tional se­cu­rity to us all, not just the pam­pered elites. The auto work­ers of Sun­der­land owe just as much to the UK be­ing in the EU as do the slick­ers of the City of Lon­don. What’s more, the con­nec­tions built up over forty years are dev­il­ishly dif­fi­cult to dis­en­tan­gle with­out dam­age, as Britain’s ne­go­tia­tors are now find­ing every day.

In an ear­lier work, Not Quite the Diplo­mat (2005), Pat­ten gives an acute anal­y­sis of the dif­fi­cul­ties we are now run­ning into, and the draw­backs of any al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments such as those now en­joyed or en­dured by Nor­way and Switzer­land. These prob­lems were, in truth, not hard to fore­see: if you with­draw from a trade bloc but wish to con­tinue trad­ing with it on fa­vor­able terms, then in­evitably you must be­come a rule-taker in­stead of a rule-maker. In re­turn for ac­cess to the sin­gle mar­ket, we gra­ciously al­low Con­ti­nen­tals to come to Britain to do the jobs we were not pre­pared to do our­selves, stock­ing shelves, pick­ing peas and straw­ber­ries, wait­ing ta­bles. One numb­skull Brex­i­teer sug­gested re­cruit­ing Bri­tish pen­sion­ers to pick the pota­toes in­stead. “Now there’s an elec­tion win­ner!” Pat­ten chor­tles.

Pat­ten re­jects the idea that Cameron had no al­ter­na­tive but to of­fer a ref­er­en­dum on Brexit. Even if the Re­main­ers had won, let’s say by the mar­gin they lost by of 52–48, the Leavers would have been back for one more heave. True enough, but could Cameron re­ally have grit­ted his teeth and car­ried on re­gard­less, as the UKIP vote con­tin­ued to rise be­yond three to four mil­lion and to reach the point where the party be­gan to win seats and hold the bal­ance of power to ma­lign ef­fect, as the Ir­ish mem­bers did in the Asquith years?

I quite agree that “it is cru­cial to man­age na­tional opin­ion so that the public do not be­lieve that their loy­al­ties are be­ing rolled over.” But how is this to be done? Is it re­ally true that, as Pat­ten claims, “it should be rel­a­tively straight­for­ward for po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to pre­vent na­tional pride turn­ing into ag­gres­sive xeno­pho­bia”? If so, why didn’t they do it? Sev­eral times, he la­ments that he and the other pro-Euro­peans failed to con­front the myths, lies, and ex­ag­ger­a­tions about Europe, for fear of stir­ring up the right wing and out of re­luc­tance to stand up to the tabloid press.

I don’t think it was just fear, or po­lit­i­cal pru­dence, to use a kinder term. There was also a lofty un­will­ing­ness to look more closely at what the iden­ti­tar­i­ans were wor­ried about. There was a cer­tain Bal­liol in­sou­ciance among the elite, and the com­mon folk felt it. The fact that we have only just be­gun to talk about iden­ti­tar­i­an­ism sug­gests that we haven’t re­ally thought much about what it means. The near­est I can get to defin­ing it is that it is the old Hobbe­sian case dressed up as “tra­di­tional con­ser­vatism.”

Put quite sim­ply by Sir Roger Scru­ton in a re­cent news­pa­per ar­ti­cle, the in­dict­ment is that a fa­mil­iar and co­her­ent tra­di­tion of liv­ing to­gether has been un­der­mined by a se­quence of hasty, illthought-out tam­per­ings with Britain’s po­lit­i­cal ar­range­ments:

The mass im­mi­gra­tion of com­mu­ni­ties who de­fine their po­lit­i­cal mem­ber­ship in re­li­gious rather than sec­u­lar terms; the trans­fer of sovereignty from par­lia­ment to un­elected of­fi­cials in for­eign coun­tries and for­eign courts of law; the dis­rup­tion of the com­mon law by the abo­li­tion of the tute­lary of­fice of Lord Chan­cel­lor and the cre­ation of a con­ti­nen­tal-style Supreme Court; the as­sault on na­tional unity caused by cre­at­ing a Scot­tish par­lia­ment while leav­ing the English with no assem­bly of their own—all these changes have oc­curred with only the most muted of protests from the Con­ser­va­tive Party and cer­tainly with no at­tempt to ar­tic­u­late in a co­her­ent way what is re­ally at stake in them, namely our sur­vival as a dis­tinc­tive sovereign body.

One may cer­tainly quar­rel with the slant that Scru­ton puts on these items. I have al­ready ar­gued, for ex­am­ple, that there has been no trans­fer of sovereignty to Europe. But it has to be ad­mit­ted that, taken to­gether, these changes do add up to some­thing. I would de­fine it as an un­clench­ing of power from the balled fist of White­hall/West­min­ster. As they work their way through, these changes nudge us in the di­rec­tion of a more open, de­volved so­ci­ety, in which it is eas­ier to raise ques­tions and in­ter­ro­gate au­thor­ity. But then plenty of peo­ple, es­pe­cially older peo­ple, are not that keen on the idea of an open so­ci­ety, and do not care to be nudged. Noth­ing was more re­mark­able about the re­sults of the EU ref­er­en­dum than the age break­down: over 70 per­cent of un­der-twenty-fives voted Re­main; two thirds of over-sixty-fives voted Leave.

There is a fair case, based on re­al­life ex­pe­ri­ence, for each of the changes that Scru­ton ab­hors. Scot­tish opin­ion was over­whelm­ingly in fa­vor of restor­ing its old Par­lia­ment to bring govern­ment closer to home. The new Supreme Court is not the brain­child of de­mented ra­tio­nal­ists; it is a nat­u­ral re­sponse to a world in which we ex­pect judges to re­view of­fi­cial de­ci­sions with­out fear or fa­vor. As for the EU, many of its ac­tiv­i­ties arise out of purely prac­ti­cal needs for com­mon stan­dards of health, safety, patent law, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, trad­ing rules, design, pro­fes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions, and a dozen other desider­ata of the mod­ern world. Yes, Pat­ten con­cedes, the EU of­ten tries to do too much, but if it did not ex­ist, we would need to invent some­thing not un­like it—which is what we are cur­rently strug­gling to do.

All this needed to be said loud and clear be­fore public opin­ion had soured and con­gealed. The fail­ure of the elite was not in what they did but in what they failed to say. Their heads were clear enough, but they never cleared their throats. I do not say that an in­vi­ta­tion to join the mod­ern world is ever an easy one to put to sus­pi­cious vot­ers. But it is a sad fact that over the past forty years no­body with that kind of per­sua­sive power has led the Con­ser­va­tive Party, or the na­tion, in the gen­eral di­rec­tion of Europe. Ken Clarke might well have man­aged it, but he was too un­bend­ing to give him­self the chance.

Ken Clarke in his of­fice in West­min­ster, Septem­ber 2005

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