Leading Article: Plugged in to a victory for Britain

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The Independent Online
THE CONDITION of liberty is eternal vigilance. Few of our contemporary politicians have taken the famous prescription closer to their hearts than Michael Heseltine. We have only to remember him as Defence Secretary, maned, in flak jacket, at Greenham Common, splendidly contemptuous of any moral objection to cruise missiles in the face of the Soviet threat. He may be older and President of the Board of Trade now, but he can still identify an insidious challenge to our way of life. Which is why, last week, he sprang to the defence of the Great British Plug.

The threat comes, of course, from Europe. Not for Europe the fused three square pins of Britain; two round pins and unfused is their way. Mr Heseltine, with his keen antennae, senses harmonisation, compulsion. There is mention of a sinister-sounding European Committee for Electrotechnical Standards; of a nation- wide cost of pounds 78m if a Europlug is adopted. Not that the EU has made any proposals as yet. The threat is enough: 'The facts, as we had a suspicion they would be, are alarming us to the dangers of precipitate action,' Mr Heseltine declared ringingly last week. 'We are now well prepared to battle for Britain.'

There is something strangely familiar in this. Perhaps you also remember that success in defending the Great British Sausage secured 10 Downing Street for the Rt Hon James Hacker in Yes, Minister. The satisfyingly chunky British plug may prove to have the same symbolism as the sausage. Certainly its origins are now lost in time: no one at five electrical stores we contacted yesterday could remember how the British got their square pins (1947, actually, introduction of the ring-main supply system). The president is clearly on to a winner. Much safer than attacking beggars.

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