Why did you oppose joining the euro? I’ll tell you why I did. It was because, although I was in favour of a Single European State (SES), I was not in favour of Britain being part of it. And that wasn’t because I feared that English, Scottish, Welsh or Ulster cultures would be degraded as part of an SES. Whether within the SES or not, I guess that bluebells will still grow in the woods, Shakespeare’s plays and Burns’ poems will still be honoured, male voice choirs will still lament Wales’ performance in the Rugby, and local election counts in Ulster will still proceed at their traditional steady pace. No, it was not for cultural reasons, in this sense. Instead, it was because I regarded Britain as, at its essence, a particular constitutional arrangement; I thought that arrangement a great gift to the world; I believed that it would be extinguished within an SES; and I thought the other places it exists – New Zealand; Canada; perhaps some Caribbean islands – not significant enough to preserve and promote it without Britain.
I once read a book that made an interesting claim: nineteenth century North American Whigs (so it said) had an attitude that may seem surprising. They believed that it was positively virtuous to inter-marry with those of other races and cultures. Why? Because they regarded the Whiggish constitutional model and political culture as a happy accident – a kind of gift from God – rather than as a reflection of some racial or innate cultural superiority of white anglo-saxon Protestants. It was a gift, and a gift that could (and ought to be) shared with others – one way to do this was by inter-marriage.
Now I don’t know whether this book was correct, but I have remembered the story, for I felt "Yes. That’s how I feel."
It has been a great disaster for our constitutional heritage that history teaching in schools has moved away from discussions of kings and battles and prime ministers. For it was in the study of these things, rather than land enclosures or Jethro Tull and his horse-seed hoe, that people would come to understand what Britain was. When Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and William Hague had various musings about what it was to be British, they would go on about a sense of fair play, or tolerance, or something like that. And these thoughts are not completely wrong, but it is really only insofar as these concepts are vested in a constitutional arrangement that they can claim to be British.
I’ve read a number of remarks on this forum, say when discussing immigration or terrorism, along the lines of "Isn’t it the role of the Conservative Party to defend traditional British values?" And in the sense the contributors meant it, the answer is a resounding "No!" It is no part of a Conservative missions to ensure that tripe or black pudding or leeks are mainstream British foods, as opposed to curry or spaghetti or ostrich burgers. Cultures live or die in the sea of competition. Cultures that need preserving belong only in museums.
But it was, traditionally, a role of the Conservative Party to conserve and promote the Whiggish constitution. And over the past seventeen years or so we have completely failed. Consider the virtual annihilation of the Whiggish constitution: the right to silence; the strict burden of proof; the right to question your accusers; the principle that if it isn’t forbidden then it’s allowed; the principle that no Parliament can tie its successors; habeas corpus; trial by jury; the hereditary principle. Perhaps some of these were principles that needed modernisation – but if so, we failed to modernise them, replacing them instead with Republican, Corporatist, and Democrat principles. Shortly we will probably destroy the vestiges of the constitutional monarchy (whilst "modernising" it to remove "anomalies" like the prohibition on Catholics), leaving of course a truly ritual monarchy – resplendent in robes and celebrity, but denuded of any useful purpose – and no-one, least of all Conservatives, will complain.
To believe – to seriously believe, as opposed to raise the thought in order to be entertaining or provocative, or after the fourth pint of beer – to believe in the traditional Whiggish constitution is now to be excluded from serious consideration or debate, to be even slightly embarassing. When was the last time that you tried to argue that the constitutional monarchy is a proper bulwark against elected dictatorship (other than in a Jubilee year)? or that having the burden of proof lie strictly on the State is an application of the ninth commandment (the prohibition on bearing false witness)? or that even those accused of child abuse should be allowed to make their accuser say it to their face? See how bizarre those thoughts seem even written down? And if they seem to bizarre even to us, how can anyone argue for them and be taken seriously? And if no-one can be taken seriously arguing their care, how can it even return? In believing in these things, I am now almost an embarassment to myself, let alone to my polite and educated friends, and I may shortly shut up.
Fifty years ago, the argument for an unelected and unappointed second chamber seemed so obvious that virtually only Communists and Liberals would argue against it. Twenty years ago we had probably forgotten why we favoured it, but no-one was proposing any alternative. Then ten years ago someone proposed an alternative and we had no idea why we should be against them or really what we would do instead (other than rather unconvincingly argue that "it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it").
And this brings me back to my start point. For when, during the 1990s, I wrote all kinds of articles opposing the euro, I didn’t think that the idea was that we would stay out of the Single European State just so that we could smash the Whiggish constitution ourselves! If we are going to have a "modern" European constitution, instead of our almost-unique British one, then I’m not sure I have much further objection in principle to joining the euro. Perhaps I’ll have to take a closer look at the economics, and see whether it might at some point start to look a good idea on those grounds…