On Europe, there is a simple point which is the key to everything. No-one knows what is going to happen. Consider the range of options. Within the next four years, there could be a functioning Eurozone, heading for political union and, effectively, superseding the EU. In that case, we British would have to renegotiate our relationship with Europe, which would not be an easy business. If the rest were making a success of things, they might not feel generously disposed towards us. Once concluded, any such renegotiation would undoubtedly require a referendum.
The obstacles to Eurozone unity are so self-evident and so overwhelming that only a German could ignore them. I have at last got round to Ian Kershaw's study of the last days of the Third Reich, "The End", which I would recommend unhesitatingly – except that everyone else has read it already. Sir Ian starts with a question. By the end of July 1944, at the latest, it should have been obvious to the meanest intelligence – and on the whole, Germans are not meanly intelligent – that Hitler had lost. So why did the Germans in the West not surrender while the ones in the East tried to leg it? By fighting on, they incurred millions of casualties, not to mention the destruction of their cities and their civilisation. What possessed them?
There is an easy answer: Hitler, that demonic master of diabolic possession. But before we accept that excuse, look at what is happening now, Frau Merkel is not Hitler. Today, the casualties appear in the unemployment figures, not as the unburied dead decomposing in the rubble of smashed cities. Moreover, it is the other nations who suffer most of the economic casualties; the heartland of the Euro-Reich is largely unaffected. But there is a parallel. In 1944, as now, the Germans were so determined to dominate Europe that they could not admit defeat.
That will not prevent it, any more than it did in 1944/45. At the other – and much more likely – end of the range of possibilities, there is a disorderly break-up of the Euro. That would leave everything in flux. It may be that we would be able to negotiate a much looser relationship with Europe: in effect, leaving the EU and rejoining the Common Market (the outcome which Liam Fox is seeking). Then again, if the rest were making such a mess of things, they might not feel generously disposed towards us. It could all depend on the extent to which we could place a UK boot on an EU windpipe. That process might also end in a referendum – unless it really was victory all the way, in which case there would be no need.
Those are the two extremes. The alternative is more of the recent same: a crisis a month, a patch-up a month, continued economic weakness: the EU's triumphalist anthem from Beethoven's Ninth gradually replaced by a piece composed by John Cage – concerto for a tin can being kicked down the road. Break-up would be better.
But there is a limit to the Britain's ability to influence the outcome. We need to keep our wits about us, responding to the European degringolade with a mixture of vigilance, caution and, when appropriate, ruthlessness. None of that would be helped by an early referendum. In yesterday's Sunday Telegraph, Liam Fox declared himself to be relaxed at the prospect of leaving the EU; no Europhile he. But he also counselled against an early referendum, because it would not be clear what we were voting about. He is right.
It is easy to see why a lot of Tories disagree. Their attitude to the EU is easy to define. They are sick of it. One can understand why. For more than a generation, there was a plot to inveigle Britain into a federal Europe, and senior Tories were up to their necks in that treasonous enterprise. We know all about the Labour Lefties who were agents of the Soviet Union. The Tories who were agents of the European Union have been lucky to escape a similar scrutiny. But that is now irrelevant, except to future historians of paranormal politics. The Federasts failed, and have been safely interned in the House of Lords, apart from dear old Ken Clarke, the last of the EUhicans, whose views on Europe no longer matter. These days, the Tory party is divided between the Euro-sceps – the vast majority – and the Euro-loathers, who hate Europe so much that they cannot think straight. It would not be too late for them to try, if they would only accept that their fears are vastly exaggerated.
For years, I used to keep my spirits up – and, who knows? those of some readers – with a comparison. I argued that institutions often seemed to be at the zenith of their power when they were in fact well into decline. The Spanish Empire, the Soviet Union and the British trade union movement were obvious examples. So is Rupert Murdoch; so, alas, was the British Empire. Another was the European Union. Well, the years passed; I changed the sandwich-board, repeated the point and tried not to lose faith. Lisbon was an especially low moment. The Euro-fanatics lied, got away with it and gloated. Much good it did them. They have lost.
Those who are calling for a referendum now are still thinking in terms of a weapon to fend off federalism. With respect, they are out of date. We in the UK no longer have to worry about the EU's strength. Now, the threat comes from its weakness. On the same page as Liam Fox, David Cameron sets out his case on the referendum. The two men's views are similar. Every thoughtful Tory should study them closely.