Purgatory of sect education on Europe

`The Book of Rifkind, he argued, had failed to mention the real scourges - such as monetary union'
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The end of a millennium is a grand time for sects. With all of us feeling antsy about destiny, fate and God, grouplets dedicated to warning of man's imminent doom and damnation pick up more support than usual. Most of the time such people are restricted to appearances at Speaker's Corner, arguing with militant Vegans about which will get us first - proteins or Beelzebub.

But yesterday was different. Courtesy of an early-morning slot at the Commons, Christopher Gill, Sceptic member for Ludlow, introduced a motion designed to draw our attention to impending destruction. For 25 years, he chillingly pointed out, politicians had duped the public, while they carried out their hidden agenda. "The endgame, which many of us have long suspected, is nothing less than a United States of Europe!" The day of reckoning could not long now be delayed.

All around him there was assent. Anti-EU flagellants, chiliasts and monks of various hues agreed. The Gormanites nodded vigorously: the ascetic, tonsured The Shepherd Is My Lord group smiled wanly. John Wilkinson looked on with priestly, tolerant sadness.

Only Tony Marlow, last descendant of the merger between the Knights of the Teutonic Order and the Ranters - clad in the navy-blue shirt and buckled shoes of his calling - stood to interrupt Mr Gill. The Book of Rifkind, he argued, had failed to mention the real scourges - such as monetary union (a perverted joining together of currencies). Which was theologically unsound, because Rifkind was about the IGC, the IGC was about Maastricht, Maastricht was about monetary union, therefore the IGC was about monetary union, which meant that ... and so on.

Unfortunately for the elect, a member of the doggedly damned had infiltrated their convocation, in the shape of Andrew McKinlay, Labour member for Thurrock. A former trade-union official, who cannot see a soap-box without queuing up for a turn on it, he was determined to have his say.

To describe his speech as discursive would be to suggest a structure and discipline that were simply not present. It was in the best tradition of trade-union branch meetings, where the local autodidact, fresh from reading encyclopedias at the library, decides to share his newly gleaned wisdom with his despairing comrades. All of it. Whatever the subject.

To be fair, Mr McKinlay had a theme - Europe - but that was the extent of his coherence. Joined and abutted with phrases like "it needs to be made quite clear"; "what I want to say" and "if I might say so", his contribution took us from Mrs Thatcher in Missouri (quoting Churchill's 1946 speech), praised Britain's "lovely Parliament", covered air-traffic control, paused at the portfolios of EU Commissioners, discussed electoral systems and concluded, triumphantly, on the question of capping the number of languages that might be simultaneously translated in the European Parliament.

Then, with a satisfied smilesuggesting that - whatever the reaction of other MPs - he had just received an internal standing ovation, he resumed his seat.

Alas for the sects, worse was to come. Their by now flagging enthusiasm was further diminished by a speech of studied tedium and pomposity delivered by former Paymaster General, Sir John Cope. Where Mr McKinlay shared uninteresting new information with the House, Sir John reminded it of boring things it already knew. M Mitterrand had gone, he revealed. And M Chirac had taken over. Herr Kohl was still there, Sir John said, but Senor Gonzalez was not.

And nor, by the time he had finished, were most of the cult members. They had just had a true vision of Purgatory, and frankly, it hadn't been the fun that they'd expected.