August 6, 2001
"You're not an isolationist, you're an Atlanticist." This is a common accusation hurled against your poor London correspondent by various forms of "purer" isolationists. Many of them cannot stand my opinion that getting Britain out of the European Union is an altogether more urgent task than getting American bases off British soil. Hell, I even say that NAFTA may be a good idea, in a strictly tactical sense. However, to those to the left all I can say is that it is a matter of time and inclination.
The first issue is culture. I am bad at languages, shockingly bad. What disturbs me, however, is that I am better at languages than your average middle class, well-educated, young Englishman. This is probably a function of the fact that Englishmen, like Americans, Irish and Australians, already grow up speaking the world language (yes, even Australians). Did I say a world language? I forgot, I should say a world language minus Europe. You see Europeans, or at least their rulers, do not like American culture, which quickly translates into English-speaking culture, which itself is one step away from English culture. While anyone who talks about the "Anglosphere" is a disturbing cultist who think that all English speaking countries will subsume their strategic interests in an orgy of Shakespeare appreciation, they do have a point. The British are more like Americans than Frenchmen, although whether this should make an iota of difference when our national independence is at stake is another issue entirely.
In one of those phrases which shows just how shallow socialist thinking was in mid-twentieth century, Nye Bevan said, "The religion of socialism is the language of priorities." If the language of priorities was to spur the faithful on to martyrdom and give solace in the darkest moments, then no wonder socialism lost. And he was one of their best speakers, so you can imagine what ordinary Labour Party meetings were like. He supposedly came out with the phrase "nothing is too good for the workers," which I think is woefully under-used, so Nye Bevan did have some use. Back to the language of priorities. Perhaps the most important fact here is that practical politics is what can be achieved. All of those who want to achieve something, as well as dreaming about it, must look at the most pressing danger first. So we come to the crux of the matter, who is the biggest obstacle to British independence America or Europe?
America is no small threat to our independence. It is the most powerful country in the world and it can interfere whenever and wherever it wants. More to the point it has American bases on British soil, it controls the "British" nuclear deterrent and it gets Britain involved in all manner of stupid wars. And Europe? For starters, Europe claims sovereignty over Parliament, its civil servants have more authority than the British electorate and it claims ultimate right over many of our natural resources. To put it bluntly, America is still a foreign country, and a foreign country is always a less immediate threat to our independence than an imperial overlord.
"However," say many of my more left-wing peacenik friends, "America is so powerful that it needs a counter balancing force." Is that relevant? Britain is like any other mid-tier power, a creature of her environment. That is Northern Europe. This means that what counts for Britain is Northern Europe, and it does not matter how powerful America is in South America, the Pacific or the Indian Ocean. In Northern Europe, America does not look too powerful. Where are the bases American bases in Northern Europe outside England? Where are the natural allies? With the exception of Norway and Denmark, Britain is the only country west of the Elbe that is both Eurosceptic and pro-American. All other Eurosceptic countries were neutrals in the Cold War, and all other non-neutrals are Europhile. Then there is France, which is a fitting subject for four or five separate columns. Taking an anti-American stance would unbalance the power in Northern Europe, rather than re-balance it. The only way in which it would (help) re-balance power would be globally. So what? Despite the advanced delusions of British imperialists, what goes on in Africa or the Middle East is of little concern to Britain, and it is certainly not worth Britain's going head-to-head with the major world power.
There is another, important, reason why we have to be nice to America: most British people simply think that their country is incapable of independence. This may be a stupid idea, but it is a prevalent one nonetheless. Never mind that as an island Britain is relatively easy to defend with an armed citizenry and a decent fishing fleet, and never mind that it is the fourth largest economy in the world. Britain, we are led to believe, is unable to survive on her own. This spell can be broken, but it will take time and possibly, we will be too far in Europe by the time the spell is broken. Unfortunately, we have to make a choice, America or Europe. That choice has to be made in Britain's interests.
This would be an academic argument, except that the stark choice is being offered in British politics today. It is not the choice between Blair and Brown, which is for the future, and seemingly more nuanced. It is the Tory leadership election. The pro-European candidate, Ken Clarke, is facing the pro-American Iain Duncan-Smith. From the standpoint of national independence, both are deeply flawed. Iain Duncan-Smith will offer no serious opposition to any war involving the Americans. Similarly, every American scheme, in particular Star Wars, will be greeted uncritically no matter how it affects British interests. This may very well be bad news, but Duncan-Smith looks positively patriotic when compared to Clarke. Clarke is a Europe-first man. Since his student days as a Mosleyite, he has never seen a European scheme that he did not like. Duncan-Smith is a less immediate danger, although he is still a danger.
Nothing I say should detract from the fact that the British will have to part company with America one day. America may understand us better than France does, and being further away, America may have fewer clashing interests, but independence has to be Britain's long term goal. We will have to say no to Star Wars and leave NATO, we will have to take our troops out of Bosnia and stop flying over Iraq. Some of this must be done immediately. The goal must be independence, and however much America threatens our independence it is as nothing compared to the European Union.
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