Vote for a Europe free from bullies and lackeys

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The brave men and women who are standing in the Euro elections as pro-Euro Conservatives must be feeling pessimistic about their chances in the polls. Last week the euro was level-pegging with the dollar, having sunk about 11 per cent in value since its launch in January. No less a figure than Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England, has said that it would be "an act of faith" for Britain to sign up to the single currency, implying that this is not a faith which he is able to share. He warns, in the inelegant lingo of today's business-speak, that joining the euro when the pound was too strong "would lock in the degree of the lack of competitiveness in the externally exposed sectors of the economy".

The bullish and bullying Andrew Neil has also emerged as an economic expert. "With a GNP of almost $1,380bn," he writes, "our economy is 20 per cent bigger than Italy's. Indeed, we are now breathing down the neck of France for fourth position. There is only 2 per cent in it...." Neil ends his tirade with the statutory Heil Blair! with which all right- wing journalists now sign them- selves off. Tony Blair will go down in history as a great prime minister, says Neil, but he adds his philistine little threat, "He should not risk his posterity and our prosperity by making us a province of Euroland".

Why should membership of the largest free-trade area in the world make us into a "province"? How odd the language of paranoia is. The message is always the same from these people - we'll lick Blair's boots, as we used to lick Thatcher's, so long as he keeps this country a satellite of America. A MORI poll conducted among such figures tells us that the majority of Tory voters now wishes to pull out of the EU altogether. There is a paradox, however, because MORI has also uncovered that William Hague, the most Eurosceptic leader yet of the Tory party, has sunk to new lows in the popularity ratings. And this is why I believe the breakaway pro-Euro Tories are important, and why we should all stir ourselves to go and vote for them in the forthcoming elections.

The important person in British politics at the moment is not William Hague, it is Tony Blair. He is surrounded by the most extraordinary crowd of admirers who ever grouped themselves around a prime minister. Many are the self-same crack- pots who fawned over Thatcher. Fawner-in-chief is Paul Johnson who wrote an article the other day in which he called Blair a young Churchill in a new age of Munich. Blair's willingness to tag along with the blundering American bomb campaign in the Balkans is seen by Johnson as a Churchillian act of defiance, not only against the wicked Slobodan Milosevic but also against all our other Nato allies in Europe. "Continental Europe," the Roman Catholic historian tells us, "is a morass of cowardice and mendacity." He reminds us that in 1588 and 1940 we stood alone against a terrifying foreign foe. Those of us who must have been looking the other way when Milosevic's armada came sailing up the Channel, and his blitzkrieg flattened London, have time to reflect on the claim that the peoples of continental Europe all display cowardice and mendacity.

These babyish words would be offensive if we believed enough people took them seriously. The MORI poll suggests that such ridiculous statements might go down well at the Tory party conference when it is next held in some small bootroom in a hotel in Eastbourne. But much more worrying is Johnson's claim - not, alas, entirely fanciful - to have the ear of Tony Blair. Blair has more than once shown his own mendacity and cowardice when it comes to buckling under and obeying the crudely Little Englander press.

The Prime Minister knows that he will remain the darling of the press and opinion polls so long as he appears to deliver policies which appease the Tory right. That is why it is essential in the matter of Europe to persuade him not to listen to the Johnsons and Neils. They represent a coarse, ugly side of English life - and in fairness one should say that it is not really true to the mid-20th century traditions of the Conservative Party. It was Tory Heath who took us into Europe in the face of Labour opposition. It was Tory Thatcher who signed us up to the Single European Act and Tory Major who ratified this treaty at Maastricht. For the Conservative Party to renege on its vision now, just because the euro has slipped a few points against the dollar, really does make one want to ask Kipling's question, "What do they know of England who only England know?".

If Paul Johnson were a proper historian, he would see what a miracle has occurred in Europe since 1945. It has been brought about not by liars and cowards but by men and women of incredible vision and bravery. No doubt the people of Stoke-on-Trent, where Johnson comes from, would have responded more pluckily than the French did to three land bombardments in 70 years, with untold loss of life. Perhaps they would have regarded the Siege of Paris, the slaughters in the Commune, the deaths in the trenches - almost a million French casualties before Christmas 1914 - as something they could take on the chin. I doubt it.

Eddie George was right. Believing in Europe is an act of faith. That act of faith has paid off. Our horror at the prospect of hundreds dead in the Balkans is one symptom of how far we have advanced together as Europeans in 50 years.

It is worse than embarrassing to think that the party which took us into this adventure now wants to join some ghastly Anglo-American axis. That's why we should vote for the pro-Euro Tories. If enough people do so it will fire a shot not only across Hague's bows but across Blair's, too.

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