‘When it is not necessary to change,’ Bruce Anderson quotes from Lord Falkland, ‘it is necessary not to change.’ Indeed. Those are wise words. Which makes it the more baffling that Bruce Anderson in his latest piece for Reaction chooses to invoke them in defending the most radical, extreme and stealthy change imposed on Britain in modern history: its absorption into an overseas supranational authority and the renunciation of British sovereignty by the political elite.
That was a far more extravagant instance of non-evolutionary change than the modest and quintessentially Tory proposal that we should, by popular mandate, recover our centuries-old sovereignty. Yet Bruce represents that notion as some kind of revolutionary upheaval. The ‘change’ that Falkland rightly deplored was any radical departure, unjustified by necessity, from the immemorial institutions and traditions of our society. It would be difficult to find a more graphic illustration of such adverse and superfluous change than Britain’s incorporation, on a false and discredited prospectus, into the European Union.
This change was effected, using deception and manipulation, by the political elite. The days of that elite are now numbered. In Chinese dynastic terminology, it has exhausted the mandate of heaven. In that respect it makes little difference whether Remain or Leave wins the referendum. The necessary trust of the electorate that confers legitimacy on an elite has been destroyed beyond recovery. Britain generally dislikes the political class and is implacably resolved to disown and disestablish it.
As obliquely alluded to in the quotation at the end of Bruce’s piece, the debauching of the elite dates from 1965 when it made the intoxicating discovery that, if it united across party lines, it could abolish capital punishment in the face of the nation’s protest. That was followed by uncontrolled immigration, restrictions on free speech and a whole apparatus of control by which a formerly pluralist society was subjected to groupthink and political correctness. Recently the elite has sought to claw back that ascendancy by attempting to prohibit debate on immigration on grounds of “tone” and denouncing “division”, previously valued as pluralism in most places outside North Korea.
This issue is arguably more important than the referendum debate and outcome. The EU is a doomed project with a toxic currency pumping poison into it through a fiscal drip-feed. It will be over within a decade. The importance of the referendum is simply that, when a house is about to collapse, it is safer to leave before the roof falls in and, in the case of the EU, to negotiate trade arrangements ahead of the 27 other states that will be crawling out from under the debris sometime in the next 10 years.
Bruce Anderson charges Charles Moore with attacking the elite while belonging to it. In doing so, he exhibits an uncharacteristic misunderstanding of the topic he is addressing. Attributes such as schooling, career, economic status and lifestyle may indeed confer membership of a social elite; but that is not the elite against which Britain, much of Europe and the United States are now in revolt. It is the political elite that is resented and that does not constitute a uniform social echelon. There are members of the political elite who went to state schools, have never visited London’s clubland and who consider themselves Marxists.
It is the political class that knows best, supported by “experts” closely linked to it institutionally and by self-interest. Bruce Anderson deplores people’s recent refusal to listen to the experts. Considering it was the “experts” who assured us in the 1990s that civilised life would end unless we joined the euro immediately, such public scepticism is empirical rather than irrational. Sometimes Bruce strikes a note that, from any other commentator, one would term naïf: “If it were in Britain’s interests to leave, it would also be in other countries’ interests for us to do so. Where are those other countries?” What? Lose a net EU contributor? Compete against a Britain untrammelled by EU regulations? Is that a serious argument?
Contrary to what the deluded elite imagines, a Remain victory would hasten its demise more aggressively than Brexit. The methods by which the establishment has manipulated this referendum have been squalid beyond belief and will not be forgiven. Brexit would deprive UKIP of its raison d’être; a Remain victory would confirm it as the only party offering a further referendum, the sole ark of salvation for enraged Eurosceptics, likely to enjoy electoral enlargement in 2020.
Bruce Anderson believes Brexit would destroy the Tory Party. The first answer to that is, so would a Remain victory, more assuredly. The second is: what Tory Party? Bruce has spent decades commenting on Tory thought: where has he detected the remotest Tory thought or instinct within the Cameron/Osborne clique? What has the current Conservative establishment done that is, by any definition, Tory?
The Tory Party has no centre, only a temporary periphery. Its core vote has gone to UKIP and it holds precarious power, courtesy of floating voters. When they float away there will be no substance to the party. Here we confront the central issue: how can a supposedly Tory government back the EU? The only remotely similar subjugation of British interests was the Secret Treaty of Dover, subordinating British policy to French ambitions, but that was the personal initiative of Charles II, not of the Tory Party.
The Whigs, in contrast, were consistently unpatriotic, subordinating British to Hanoverian interests in the 18th century then, under the leadership of the odious Charles James Fox, supporting the American rebels and encouraging the importation of the French Revolution to Britain. But when the Tory Party abandoned patriotism it forfeited its birthright. Despite the trappings of government it is a zombie party.
One lesser, but intriguing, mystery remains. How does Bruce Anderson, doyen of Tory commentators, come to be supporting the EU? It is to be feared he has contracted a virus, most probably in the vicinity of Downing Street, that, like one of those old “B” horror movies, has mutated him from a Tory into a Rockingham Whig. That is a lonely party these days. Whatever the cause, it is a melancholy spectacle to see Britain’s most intuitively Cavalier polemicist wearing Roundhead fustian.