On September 19th 1988, Margaret Thatcher lit a candle in Bruges which to this day has not been extinguished. In a speech to the College of Europe, she proclaimed: “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a European super state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”
This is the central tenet of what became known as the ‘Bruges Speech
’, which, two decades on, remains a seminal text for British ‘Euro-sceptics’. And doubtless it will continue to be so until the nation is liberated from
This evening the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven OM will be the guest of honour at a dinner commemorating the 20th anniversary of her speech, and there will be contributions from the Lord Tebbit and Václav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic. His Grace was invited, but, owing to the lack of a corporeal presence, was unable to accept.
He does, however, wish to send his best wishes to the Great Lady and also to the Bruges Group – the think-tank which was founded to work towards the realisation of Margaret Thatcher’s vision for the EU.
Doubtless there will be a few complaints from Cranmer’s communicants at Conservative HQ or those who join us from Parliament’s servers, with warnings that ‘banging on about Europe’ will do nothing to win the Conservative Party the next general election, or that it will cause divisions within the Party which will ‘turn the voters off’.
Well, Cranmer says phooey. Yes, he knows that is not the most eloquent of words, and that it falls far short of the standards he set himself in his magnum opus, but he is sick and tired of the tedious micro-management of nuanced policy shifts which get swamped by big media events like the foot and mouth, bird flu, global warming or the credit crunch, only for Prime Minister Brown - like Prime Minister Blair before him – to arise from a near death experience (with the unparalleled genius assistance of the Lord Mandelson), and watch a thirty-point lead in the polls to be eroded back to single digits.
The thought of a fourth Labour victory is too depressing to contemplate.
The Conservative narrative must be changed to incorporate some big, unforgettable, media-dominating headlines which can sink into the national consciousness over the next year. There is no point delaying such announcements until nearer the election, for there will be no time to expound the details, and no time for the electorate to grasp the vision or believe it were possible.
And so the Lord Tebbit articulates one such policy: David Cameron must promise a referendum
on whether the UK should leave the European Union.
Simple, straightforward, democratic, and popular. The Conservative Party would win one of its largest majorities ever, and could remain in office long enough to implement a generation of transformative and regenerative policies.
Just think of a Conservative Party articulating the Thatcher conviction – authentic, courageous, visionary, and inspirational. The manifesto is written:
‘The first guiding principle is this: willing and active co-operation between independent sovereign states is the best way to build a successful European Community.
‘To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging and would jeopardise the objectives we seek to achieve.
‘Europe will be stronger precisely because it has France as France, Spain as Spain, Britain as Britain, each with its own customs, traditions and identity. It would be folly to try to fit them into some sort of identikit European personality.
‘Some of the founding fathers of the Community thought that the United States of America might be its model. But the whole history of America is quite different from Europe.
‘People went there to get away from the intolerance and constraints of life in Europe.
‘They sought liberty and opportunity; and their strong sense of purpose has over two centuries, helped create a new unity and pride in being American - just as our pride lies in being British or Belgian or Dutch or German.
‘I am the first to say that on many great issues the countries of Europe should try to speak with a single voice. I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone. Europe is stronger when we do so, whether it be in trade, in defence, or in our relations with the rest of the world.
‘But working more closely together does not require power to be centralised in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy.
‘We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European super¬state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.
‘Certainly we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose. But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one's own country; for these have been the source of Europe's vitality through the centuries.
‘If we cannot reform those Community policies which are patently wrong or ineffective and which are rightly causing public disquiet, then we shall not get the public's support for the Community's future development.
‘What we need now is to take decisions on the next steps forward rather than let ourselves be distracted by Utopian goals. Utopia never comes, because we know we should not like it if it did.
‘Let Europe be a family of nations, understanding each other better appreciating each other more, doing more together but relishing our national identity no less than our common European endeavour.
‘Let us have a Europe which plays its full part in the wider world, which looks outward not inward, and which preserves that Atlantic Community - that Europe on both sides of the Atlantic - which is our noblest inheritance and our greatest strength.’
It is the stuff of greatness: it could be the foundation of a new era of Conservative inspiration and leadership.
On the other hand, they could continue talking about ‘being in Europe but not run by Europe’ (while ‘ever closer union’ continues apace), sharing the proceeds of growth (in a recession), adjustments to capital gains tax (while house prices plummet), fixing Britain’s ‘broken society’ (while Parliament legislates for fatherless children), improving standards in education (while truancy and exclusion rates soar), bringing back matron (while people die for want of drugs), or the importance of societal cohesion (while local authorities are at breaking point coping with uncontrollable immigration).
Or they could even ape Senator Obama and just talk about the need for change.
That seems to work.
But without a vision, the people perish.