ON Friday the Guardian and other newspapers published an open letter in defence of ‘the idea of Europe’ by a group it described as ‘30 top intellectuals’. It caught the eye of two of our writers, Chris McGovern here and Robert James.
EUROPE as an idea is ‘coming apart before our eyes’. ‘Fight for Europe – or the wreckers will destroy it.’ Pro-Europeans ‘no longer have a choice’. ‘They must sound the alarm against the arsonists of soul and spirit that, from Paris to Rome, with stops in Barcelona, Budapest, Dresden, Vienna, or Warsaw, are playing with the fire of our freedoms.’
Those who question the liberal-democratic credentials of the unelected European Commission and its acolyte bodies should not be regarded as morally delinquent and deficient. This, though, is what thirty of our would-be moral superiors – writers, historians and Nobel laureates – would have us believe. They have just launched a manifesto to save us Brexit plebs and the like from ourselves. Apparently, liberal values in Europe now face a threat ‘not seen since the 1930s’.
Our very own Sir Simon Schama, one-time Harvard professor and historian television presenter of great merit, has added his signature to the manifesto. I have much admired Schama’s work over the years and do not doubt his fine intentions on this occasion.
Sadly, the European Union looks rather different in the real world than from the cloistered comfort of the university Senior Common Room. By any test that Schama and his manifesto colleagues can apply, the European Commission that runs the EU is not democratic. It is an unelected bureaucracy. To portray it as some sort of safeguarding body for liberal values is absurd.
Both Schama and I advised the recent Cameron government on the revision of the History National Curriculum for schools in England. Its failure to require the teaching of a single landmark event or personality from British history, whilst placing Islamic and West African history on a statutory list, was not Schama’s fault. He could, though, have commented on its betrayal of our national identity. Instead, he has remained silent.
All he has offered has been a criticism of those, like me, who favoured the inclusion of some famous Brits. He declared, bizarrely, that those advocating the case for the likes of Clive of India were deluded since Clive was, at best, a top-order rogue. Certainly that was part of the Clive story, but so what? We should not be including or excluding significant figures from our past, or any country’s past, on the basis of how nasty they were.
Schama was wrong about excluding Clive and, also about not requiring landmark personalities of British history to be taught in our schools. He is equally wrong this time round in perceiving ‘populism’ as a threat to democratic values. On the contrary, ‘populism’ is an escape route from the ‘unpopulism’ of an autocratic Brussels elite.
Schama and his Manifesto 30 group are backing the errant and losing side. Rather than supporting an ancien régime that is inflicting so much misery on Europe, especially on the young of Southern Europe, they should be placing their trust in the people and looking towards a liberation of nation states based on open-border trade agreements and on the ballot box.
The Manifesto 30 group should be asking themselves why the Europe of their dreams has become a nightmare for so many. Is it because the ‘plebs’ are too thick to see the issues at stake, or is it simply that those claiming to be their moral and intellectual ‘superiors’ find the new reality to be unbearable? The European elections of May 2019 cannot come soon enough! Let’s hear from the people of Europe!