Tim's in race for UKIP job
Speech given by Tim Congdon CBE to conference at Webbington Hotel
CMarch-2009? a correction or accurate date would be much appreciated!
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
I am going to talk today about Britain, Europe and the world, and the position of Britain in Europe. I am also going to talk about fundamental strategic errors. Finally, I am going to tread on toes.
When should I start? I am going to start 50 years ago, in 1958, which - as you may notice - is pretty much the date of the beginning of the European Economic Community. I'm sure some of us can remember reading the fashionable novels of the day, novels such as Nevile Shute's A Town like Alice and John Masters' Bhowani Junction. They were novels about, among other things, the movement of people around the British Commonwealth, usually in the 1950s from Britain to Australia and from India to Britain, but sometimes in the other direction. There was indeed a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in the English-speaking world. But one expression was used in both those books and in many others. When people went from another Commonwealth country to Britain, they said they were 'going home'. Yes, 'going home'. I can myself remember - when my parents decided to return from South Africa, where we lived for 18 months when I was a child - using exactly that expression to describe our return to Britain.
Let us now - starting from 1958 - cast our minds forward 50 years to today. Let us carry out this exercise in our imaginations - in our dreams, if you wish - as if we did not know what had happened in that intervening 50-year period.
Surely, we would say how fortunate we are. Think of those Commonwealth countries. Think of Australia, Canada, South Africa, India, New Zealand and so many others. Think of their growing populations, their immense territories, their abundant natural resources, their institutions of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law which they inherited from us and which, somehow, we still celebrate here. Think of them as markets for our products, as places in which our companies could invest and as countries in which we would be welcome as visitors. Could any nation be more fortunate than ours, since our nation was and still is viewed as 'home' by the people of all these lands, the lands that with their space and resources can from 2008 look forward to a marvellous 21st century?
Well, from 1958 you may have had those dreams of what our country's position in the world would be at the start of the 21st century. You may have had those dreams of how happy the prospect of the early 21st century would be to your children and grandchildren. They - like you - could be proud of their British inheritance, an inheritance of ideas, institutions and laws which they shared with so many other English-speaking peoples in other continents.
Let us now return to reality and look at what actually happened in that intervening 50-year period. Sadly, our dreams and reality were a long way apart.
The 1960s were a wretched decade of rapid decline, which the commentators blamed on our failure to join 'the Common Market', the economic club to which six of our European neighbours belonged. So in 1973 we joined that club, almost exclusively for economic reasons. We never intended to belong to a political union, a United States of Europe. When the British people voted in a referendum in 1975 on the Common Market, they voted in favour of a free trade association with our European neighbours because they believed it would halt the decline in their relative economic position. They did not want their nation to be absorbed in a larger European entity; they certainly did not want to lose their political independence.
It was a stupid mistake, a fundamental strategic error.
We now know that the Common Market's economic promise was an illusion. The population of Europe will fall in coming decades, its output will rise more slowly than that of the world as a whole, and its share in world trade and investment will drop. Even worse Europe's nations have high taxes and a heavy burden of regulation, and they are doing their best to spread those high taxes and burdensome regulations to us. We joined the Common Market in 1973 so that succeeding generations could look forward to high and rising living standards by international standards. But, in the event, our membership of the European Union in the early 21st century - if it continues - will mean that we are handcuffed to a group of nations that are losing ground economically. They are losing ground, in terms of living standards and their financial weight, relative to our Commonwealth friends and indeed to the world as a whole. Do you ever hear nowadays about the economic argument for our EU membership? But that was the argument - the bogus argument - we were sold in the early 1970s.
The decision to join the European Economic Community in 1973 was a fundamental strategic error. Nations - whole peoples - can make terrible mistakes, total strategic errors.
Let us now think forward another 35 years to today, to 2008. Let us think forward not as our dreams might have it, but in the full awfulness of reality. There is no doubt that the Reform Treaty is intended, by the bureaucrats and politicians in Brussels and Strasbourg, to be the end of the independence of the various nations of the European Union, including Britain. Repeat, it is meant to bring our nation's independent existence to a close. In 1973 the British public thought they would be joining a list of party invitees, so that we would invite our European neighbours to our parties and they would invite us to theirs, and we could all enjoy each others' company. And what could be wrong with that? After all, you and I and everyone else in our country want to be friendly with neighbours, even if we live quite separate lives.
We were conned. We now find not only that we must welcome these neighbours into our houses and be nice to them, but that we must throw away the key to our own front door. That is what the Reform Treaty is all about. The Council of Ministers is to have the power to extend its own competences without reference to national parliaments; it is to have the power to make itself more powerful at the expense of our own political institutions, apparently without limit.
We are throwing away the key to the front door of our own house. Could any nation commit a more dreadful mistake than that? Another fundamental strategic error, an error even worse than that in 1973, is being made.
Of course, in contrast with the 1973 blunder, this error does not have the approval of the British people. That is why it is so shocking that the House of Commons - with the two of the three main parties betraying a clear election promise to hold a referendum on a new European constitution - has voted in favour of the Reform Treaty. We are now in a quite extraordinary position. The supporters of British democracy are hoping that the House of Lords, the unelected house, will vote in favour of a referendum and so delay the implementation of the Reform Treaty until the next general election and, in all probability, a change in the governing party. Whether that change in the governing party restores powers from Brussels to Parliament in Westminster remains to be seen.
Of course UKIP wants a referendum - and the South-West region has done a wonderful job in trying to promote one. And here I come to the next fundamental strategic error - and to those toes I said I would tread on.
It is not just nations that can make terrible mistakes in their strategic direction. The same is true of political parties. And I have to say that I am very worried about our own party, the UK Independence Party.
A quirk of the electoral system has meant that UKIP's most important political representation is in the European Parliament. This is an institution created as a result of the integrationist movement within the EU, the movement which is aiming at the destruction of our national independence. Do you know any European country where they say that 'we are going home' when they travel to Britain? Can you imagine the citizens of any European nation participating in the same sense of loyalty, the same respect and nostalgia, for our institutions and way of life that is still felt, if by a diminishing minority, across the Commonwealth and even, by the strange passage of events, in the United States of America? Of course not.
By rights, UKIP should deplore the European Parliament and all its works. But, frankly, that is not what has happened.
All political parties have limited resources, in terms of money and, more important, in terms of the amount of time available to their leading figures. The central task of UKIP today must be to raise its share of the vote in next year's European elections and the coming general election, which seems likely to be in 2010. That - surely, surely - is uncontroversial. Now the more time that UKIP's leading lights spend on the European Parliament in Brussels, Strasbourg and (no doubt) an assortment of other European cities in various capacities, the less time they are spending on the UK political scene. And, bluntly, all the time that UKIP MEPs spend on travel to and from the European Parliament, and on listening passively to European Parliament debates, attending committee sessions and so on, is total waste as far as Britain's own political debate is concerned.
There is a high risk that UKIP will make the mistake of confusing its representation in the European Parliament as a result of the 2004 European elections - which is its most substantive political achievement so far - with its major political task in the long run. Like the mistakes made by our country in 1973 and that our political leaders are on the threshold of making again now, that would be a fundamental strategic error.
UKIP's job is to influence the British domestic political scene so that, ultimately, we will withdraw from the European Union; UKIP's job is not to arrange for its MEPs' travelling time, expenses and the rest. Certainly not.
I have been dismayed that so many of UKIP's brightest members want to become MEPs. Let me emphasize that I did not join UKIP in order to become a MEP and, very emphatically, I am not going to put my name forward for that. From the point of view of the party's serious long-run goals, the European Parliament is a cul-de-sac. Instead we must prepare an agenda to raise our share of the vote in 2009 and 2010. We need to
-work as closely as we can with the Eurosceptic and Eurorealist think tanks, such as Open Europe, the Bruges Group, Global Vision, the European Foundation and so on, -prepare a regular series of pamphlets on European issues and seek publicity for them in the media, -make sure that we achieve extensive and favourable press coverage through contributing articles to the national press and encouraging our members to write 'letters to the Editor', -put our name in front of the British public as much as possible by billboards, campaign buses, other types of advertising and so on, -raise money by fund-raising events and dinners, so that we can finance more campaign buses, more billboards and more advertising, -exploit the opportunities created by the internet for spreading our message, our vision and our brand.
And that is just a start.
Ladies and gentlemen, the more time that UKIP's leaders spend in the European Parliament, the less time that they have for the really important agenda I have set out in the last few minutes. When you think about it, what I have said is obvious. I know I am treading on toes and I don't care. What I have said needs to be said if the UK Independence Party, like our nation in 1973, is not to commit a fundamental strategic error.
Speech given by Tim Congdon CBE to conference at Webbington Hotel
do view the detail in context written at the time CLICK HERE