October 23, 2002

What's In A Question?

Question: what is the modern Tory definition of leadership? Answer: asking a question. This at least was how William Hague told it over the Euro. And I say this as someone who came to see a lot of merit in him by the end – this certainly was a man you could measure by the stamp of his enemies. What so annoyed me was that he felt the only way to settle party policy on the Euro was to hold an internal referendum on it. Yet his ballot was a costly and unnecessary abdication of leadership. How could one claim to be leading by asking other people a question? Leading is telling, not asking. It was doubly pointless given that all it served to do was very slightly reinforce the present hopelessly vague policy. The only justification for a party leadership having resort to internal party referenda is so as to establish heresy. Mr Hague specifically ruled this out. So this ridiculous vote didn't achieve the objective of 'stopping the feuding' as it implied no sanction against Tory adherents of the Single Currency project. When the time comes for the Blairite referendum, they, we are told to this day, will be able without hindrance to campaign against party policy, and for Labour policy (i.e. entry). Why does this matter? Well only because such euro-peace as there is in the party stems from the size of that infamous 61% victory in the leadership election last year, and all that is draining away pretty quickly.

If 'unity comes from leading, not pleading' it was hard to see how Mr Hague, in this instance, was. How on earth can a referendum be seen as leading, especially one whose sacerdotal result once obtained was not be used to whip the bare feet of Heseltine, Clarke et al? Why did Tories have to be asked to tell the leadership that they did indeed support the policy the then leadership had already decided upon? This referendum was, of course, a fraud, as it didn't determine policy, rather a weakling and indecisive leadership called it when the big brother imprimateur of their astonishingly loyal and unquestioning grassroots membership was required: it bore to democratic legitimacy much the same regard that Saddam's rent-a-crowds do today. It is instructive that even in the modernised Tory party there is no mechanism whereby the newly empowered grassroots member can petition for a referendum to be held on an aspect of party policy. Our internal party referenda are wheeled out just as Tory opponents of real referenda charge governments wheel them out – in rigged fashion.

The stated objective of this farce was to obtain a 'settled policy' for the official Tory attitude to British accession to the Single Currency. It wasn't about the rights and the wrongs of the single currency, it certainly wasn't about whether or not the UK should go in (that decision is the preserve of the government, not the opposition). We deservedly have little chance of obtaining a settled policy with such vacillating and indecisive leadership that needs to enforce its policy by means of mob rule. But far more importantly, the policy that resulted (and has endured to the present day) is in itself an act of political weakness, and logical nonsense. It is politically weak because all it amounts to is 'Wait and see: Wait and see harder' (i.e. it is most certainly not the Single Currency ruled out); and it is intellectually weak because why rule out the Single Currency, now, at the next election, but leave it at that? If the single currency, now, can be ruled out for the next election, why only the next election? By the arguments Mr Hague used – and his mute successor, we assume, would use today – 'we have to rule it out for the next election as we don't know what economic circumstances will be', the single currency could be ruled out for ever as we have even less idea of what economic conditions will be like the further we peer into the future.

Why not rule the single currency out tout court, why this ridiculously qualified one term edict, which only invites trouble? After all ruling it out world without end would sort things out, but wouldn't have any dangerous effect as no party could ever really be bound by this if and when circumstances actually changed. Entirely predictably, this 'historic ballot' didn't 'settle' the issue: quite the reverse, the policy the referendum cemented institutionalises our factional divisions.

To justify this policy on the basis that we don't know now what circumstances will be at the moment when Britain would have to enter the Euro is insane (and a deceit). And let's leave to one side the fact that a condition of political leadership/governance is that one has to make decisions today on the basis of reasonable assumptions about the future: in other words, it is quite possible now to make a judgement on the whole single currency project and its intrinsic merits, without running away from that by taking refuge in excuses like, 'I don't know what the exact, down to the last decimal point, economic indices will be at the time'. Indeed, this is one of the biggest flaws to the whole Hague/Duncan Smith approach – it derives chiefly from their mutual and successive unwillingness to actually make a definite pronouncement on the Euro. Just as not being able to know the future now rules out saying we will definitely enter, logic suggests that that condition should also preclude ruling out entry, which, er, it hasn't.

The Hague line was, despite the propaganda at the time by Labour and Tory leftists, not so very different from the derided Major-era 'Wait and See'. After all, all William Hague did was, wait and see, and he has saw that, for the next election, and the next one only (after all there are limits to how far a reasonable man like Mr Hague can see) the Tories are against entry. Some vision. In other words, this matter is not so patently and undeniably wrong, like say Britain being abolished and turned into Euroregions, that it could never, at some stage, be envisaged as Tory policy. Our point of interest should be that, under our famed Masstricht rebel of a leader, this is what persists as party policy today.

If memory serves, the supposed genesis of this gambit (the referendum to 'settle' policy) was nominally fear of some late 90s Conference 'revolt' planned by the Europhile left. Thus, in this battle, Mr Hague provided leadership of Byngian stupidity and incompetence, and deserved a similar fate. Their revolt (i.e. fringe meetings to attract attention to their cause) was no more than Eurosceptics did habitually, when well behaved, which was rarer than we care to remember. To very dull, there is, as ever, a workable historical precedent: after Bonar Law finally settled the great Tariff reform decade long fight in favour of a TR solution (though likewise not an ultra-TR-solution), the party, very quickly thereafter, was forced by events to give up, as an irrelevance, this achievement, which had once been the central goal of intra-right political activity and thought. Anyway, that's as may be, and seems a very long way from accounting why we're still in the election-losing business, let alone why we lost merely the most recent one.

At the time of the ballot, and under the screeching direction of most Tory pundits, William Hague obediently trotted out the line that the divisions over Europe were very important in losing the 1997 election. But this is a very vague account of how and why we lost that contest. If it was simply the matter of the divisions that lost us the last election then all Eurosceptics should have very heavy hearts as it was sceptics who were the dissidents, unconstrained by the electoral needs of the party e.g. the utterly pointless and harmful Sykesian commitments in personal manifestos re monetary union (as if it was necessary, as if we didn't know what these people stood for, as if the absence of the commitment would have tied them to the official line, and most importantly of all given the subject of general elections and the winning thereof, as if it did either the party as a whole or even Eurosceptics in particular any good).

Obviously the way the great defeat of 1997 should be understood is not chiefly through the medium of the divisions, but through the leadership policies which caused those divisions. In other words the last Conservative government was not driven out of office by a handful of nutty backbenchers utterly defeated on their chosen field of battle, but by the personalities of the big fat leaders (the Hurds, Heseltines, Clarkes and Majors), and their policies. But then once we acknowledge this we are left with grim consideration of the character issue: what one might call the Portillo question. If the party was indeed heading for defeat at the 1997 election because of the policies being pursued by the inadequate incumbent leadership, why did the Portillos, or the Howards, or for that matter, the Hagues, doubtless perceiving these grievous defects in the party programme stay in the cabinet (it was after all in their paladin hands, rather than peasant backbenchers, that the power to change things lay)? What did staying on in office do for them, their beliefs, their party, or their honour?

When Leader Hague said that he wanted to put an end to the factions claiming the affections of the party in favour of this or that pursuit, I would have had more admiration for him if he admitted that his (correct) solution was to lead one faction to victory.

Unity comes from 'consistency, through clarity and through certainty' we were told at the time. Mr Hague was a member of John Major's cabinet and supported his policy (indeed from becoming a Tory MP William Hague not once on anything challenged the party line, whatever the party line was in all the tribulations and changes of the last decade), yet his self-avowed claim to fame as Leader was that his policy was so very different to that weak mess. This was doubtless a goal to aim for, but on the Euro it was never one achieved.

Sovereignty does not lie in the possession of an indigenous and exclusivist currency; my objection over the Euro is not the idea of getting rid of sterling, rather it is the existence of the EU, and the form and direction of the EU. The danger in the Euro is the progenitor, framework for, and purpose of the Euro – i.e. the EU. Without an EU an alternative to Sterling, or fixed exchange rates, or tying the currency to Gold or whatever would have no qualms for me. In that sense, I'm trying to be a cold and detached about this as possible: the great problem, as far as I see it, is that regardless of the result of any national referendum on the Euro, it still has the capacity to rip an undisciplined party apart.

For one weird minute, let's pretend that our policy going into the 2001 election deserved to be taken seriously: what would have happened if, on this platform, the Tory party had won the last election, and it becomes apparent that circumstances are 'right' for British adherence to the Euro? We would hardly have stood for the entire of this current parliament doing nothing, and waiting until the next general election before getting a different mandate (after all by then those pesky circumstances might have changed). We would in reality have abandoned our ludicrous pledge. This, to reiterate, is still party policy. It remains a reminder of why we are not fit to govern.

– Christopher Montgomery

Please Support

Send contributions to:
520 S. Murphy Ave., Suite #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form

Your contributions are now tax-deductible

Recent Articles by Christopher Montgomery

What's In A Question?

They'll Come For Us Next

Weary Lonesome Blues

Let's Not Be Beastly To the Germans

Iraq War II: This Time We Mean It

Let's Go To War With Iraq

How Tony Blair Saved Britain

Moral Truncheons

The Uses and Abuses of a Reasonable Man

Noted Fromt he Wastebin of History

Does September 11th Matter?

My Day at the Seaside

Fighting Is Fun

Getting Bogged Down

What Are We Fighting For?

Absent Dangers: Forgotten 'Threats'

Conspiracy Corner

Let Them In

Gibraltar: It's Ours, And We're Keeping It

Living History


Introducing Ameroscepticism

Straws In the Wind

Your Friends In the West

Nately's Old Man

Twenty Years On

Zimbabwe: Whose Problem Is It Anyway?

How To Say No?

Not So MAD Then?

A Morality Tale

A Tory Laments

Terrorism, at Home and Abroad

Airstrip One Article Archives

Contact Christopher Montgomery

Go to the most current column by Christopher Montgomery

Sign up to receive Airstrip One by e-mail

Christopher Montgomery is an historian who is currently writing a book on the historiography of the Suez crisis, and is publisher of ERO. He recently took some time out to run the Iain Duncan Smith campaign office, and for a while was working in the private office of the Leader of the Opposition. A young representative of the diehard tradition, he believes that Enoch Powell was right on everything apart from immigration. His column appears here on Wednesdays.

Back to Home Page | Contact Us