Leading Article: A manifesto of nostalgia

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The Independent Online
The eight whipless Euro-rebels now comprise an experimental party. They are political entrepreneurs testing the popular market for British nationalism. Should the market-testing prove highly profitable, these innovators might even succeed in takin g overthe Tory party. Like disillusioned Saatchi executives, many Conservative MPs look on with interest, ready to take shares should the project thrive. From within the Cabinet, Michael Portillo watches the embryonic development of an alternative Conse rvative Party that he might lead.

Yesterday consumers were shown the goods on offer. The rebels set out their eight-point manifesto for a nationalist Britain in Europe. It is a clever product, beguiling and simple. Targeted at those fed up with Brussels' waste and uneasy about Britain's post-imperial decline, it has the common touch. With Teresa Gorman as cheerleader, this programme will sell well. But the public should be warned. These are shoddy goods. They ill serve justified concern about Britain's identity and role in Europe. The rebels' programme should be recognised for what it is: an intoxicating and deluding concoction of nostalgia and opportunism.

Nostalgia lies in four points that would downgrade the European Court and the European Parliament, abandon moves towards economic and monetary union, and drastically cut the European Union budget. The rebels are harking back to the Fifties, when Britain hung on to its empire and backed a simple European free trade area rather than an ambitious single European market. Only belatedly did Britain accept that the benefits of a fully open market, like that in the United States, require new Europe-wide political and economic institutions.

The call for Britain to abandon the EU agricultural and fishery policies is pure opportunism. The CAP remains highly unsatisfactory, requiring root-and-branch reform, but the rebels are wrong to suggest that nothing has been done to improve the policy. The answer to declining fish stocks is a stronger supranational authority, not, as the rebels argue, every nation netting what it wants. Meanwhile, what can be said about the rebels' new-found sympathy for a ban on live animal exports? Let's not be cynical. Let's welcome this cuddly transformation of the hard-nosed Nicholas Budgen and red-blooded William Cash.

Nevertheless, the Euro-rebels are important. These backbenchers, until recently little more than just political has-beens, have touched a national sense of insecurity and dis- satisfaction. Mrs Gorman is a politician of rare populist instinct, and her cause may eventually capture the Conservative Party. Whatever the outcome of the battle within the party, the rebels have clearly identified a vigorous and expanding political market. Other politicians should now serve it. Voters are entitled to higher-qua lity argument and debate than that offered by the rebel eight.