Yesterday we featured David Curry's striking warning about difficult years ahead for local government. In his valedictory speech to the House of Commons he also issued a warning to his party about Europe and Britain's place in the world.
Britain is still in search of its place in the world: "One of the reasons why I came into politics was a
feeling that my generation had inherited a country that was in rapid
transformation and, in many ways, had not come to terms with it.
Britain was the sick man of Europe in my youth, when I was at
university. When I was 18, in 1962, Dean Acheson, the American Secretary of State, made a speech in which he said:
"Great Britain has lost an Empire and not yet found a role."
am leaving this House 48 years after Dean Acheson made that speech, and
I believe that that dilemma for the United Kingdom remains unresolved."
Obama has further downgraded the UK-US relationship: "We
cling to an increasingly asymmetric relationship with the United
States. I would not want us not to have a particular relationship with
the United States, but increasingly we cannot sustain it on the basis
of that old idea that something very special is at its heart. The
current President has less interest in that idea than some-perhaps less
than any other-of his predecessors whose roots went back to Europe."
Tories need to be more positive about Europe: "Benches, given my party leadership's decision to have constructive
engagement on Europe, and its extraordinarily elegant and, from my
point of view, extremely welcome climbdown on the referendum pledge. We
are perennially reluctant Europeans, yet no sane party has come up with
a plan B on Europe. I look forward to seeing, from the perspective of
my greenhouse, the changed reaction towards Europe of Conservative Back
Benchers if they sit on the Government Benches, as opposed to the Opposition. I
know that Europe has huge problems. In a sense, its bluff is being
called: how can one create an economic union without the political
union that goes with it? But the ability of the Europeans to cobble
something together that works is absolutely astonishing. In a sense,
there is something rather British about being able to put something
together on an improvised basis that manages to carry on."
Britain needs to stop punching above its weight, but at its weight: "We
talk about punching above our weight, but a person can only punch above
their weight for a certain number of rounds, and then they get
flattened. I do not want us to punch above our weight. I want us to
work out what our weight is and punch at it. I do not want to go a gram
above our weight. We send our young soldiers to die in Iraq and
Afghanistan, but we do not have the means to sustain over a long term
the total support that means that we can carry through those missions
with complete success. If we are honest, we ended up in Iraq, in Basra,
not in a glorious episode, but in a somewhat humiliating one. When it
comes to the intervention
in Afghanistan, I want to be able to say that we will see things
through, so that I can say that those young people did not die in vain.
If we cannot sustain those operations in the long term, we should not
embark on them. I would say to an incoming
Government: look hard at the UK. Look at us from the outside as well as
from the inside. Turn the telescope around sometimes, and look through
both ends. What can we really do? What is it reasonable to ask our
citizens to sustain? What is the effective power or weight of the
United Kingdom in the modern world, where we spend all our time talking
about the impact of globalisation? In the end, of course things boil
down to budgets and economic performance, but we need to look honestly
in the mirror of our national identity and national capability. If we
do that, the next Government will perhaps be able to answer the
challenge that Dean Acheson set 48 years ago, which, in many ways, has
governed my political life."