With a new editor in charge of The Sunday Telegraph, last week’s Booker column was something of a dog's dinner in presentational terms as the new broom was still in the process of sweeping. However, a "new format" column has now emerged. Booker has been given an extra 200 words and a higher profile – and I get to keep my job.
Anyhow, to celebrate the expanded column, this week Booker has run no less than five stories, but the lead is a theme familiar to our readers, the Blair speeches and the EU constitution. Tony Blair, he writes, made just enough of the right noises to convince the more gullible sections of the media that he might be about to mastermind some miraculous transformation of the EU. Booker continues:
He talked about the need to hear the people of Europe blowing their trumpets outside the city walls. He talked of the need for "leadership", and how the EU needed to be "modernised", its economies deregulated, the Common Agricultural Policy reformed. If all this happened, he might even be prepared to renegotiate the British rebate.A very familiar theme, our readers might think, but it bears repetition. And, in the same areas, for his second story, Booker retails the account of how, last Monday in the House of Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked about the various ways in which the EU is already implementing the "Constitution for Europe" without waiting for it to be ratified.
But examine his speeches in Westminster and Brussels closely and they include not a single proposal as to how any of these wonders might be achieved. The financial arrangements for the CAP, as President Chirac reminds him, are set in stone for another eight years (and, as a Brussels official was last week quoted as saying, the agriculture which the CAP sustains is viewed as "the very fabric of European civilisation, a rampart against decline, the rural exodus, mushrooming urban sprawl, shanty towns, crime, violence, drugs").
Mr Blair was not so foolish as to suggest that a single power already handed over to Brussels should be returned. The Constitution may be in the deep-freeze, but the "European project" rolls on regardless, including policies which could only legally be implemented if the Constitution was ratified.
The only chance the peoples of Europe had to give a verdict on all this was through those referendums which, since the French and the Dutch said no, have been suspended indefinitely. Not least in the UK, people have therefore lost their last chance to express their concerns in a peaceful, democratic fashion.
There is not the slightest indication from Mr Blair or anyone else of how the EU could be reformed so as to turn it into anything other than what it is. The system of government which already produces half our laws is now more unaccountable than ever. We are subjected to a government which we cannot dismiss or replace, so that to a great degree we now in effect live in a one-party state.
All that has happened, as a result of the turbulence of the past month, is that we face on a "European" level the equivalent of that one-kilometre zone which Mr Blair has decreed should be set up round the Palace of Westminster, in which no demonstrations are to be allowed ever again. If the people wish to blow their trumpets, they can do so, But only so far from Jericho that they are out of earshot, so that our rulers within the city walls can continue ruling undisturbed.
He asked the relevant minister, Baroness Amos, about the setting up of a "European space programme", the European Defence Agency, the European Fundamental Rights Agency and an EU diplomatic service, all of which are marching ahead without any proper legal authorisation.
The response from the minister, writes Booker, was astonishing. She made not the slightest attempt to answer his question, but merely lectured him on how he clearly did not understand the ratification process. Next day Lord Pearson, joined by Lord Waddington, a former Home Secretary, tried again. This time Lady Amos replied, "I am not aware of any formal or informal legislative proposals that rely on the treaty as their base". Despite having been caught out the day before, she had made not the slightest effort to do her homework.
Yet, as a Cabinet minister, Lady Amos receives £98,999 a year from the taxpayers. Why, if she is not prepared to produce slightly more serious answers to serious questions, do we have to shell out such a sum? Written questions have now been tabled in an effort to get the Baroness to do the job she is paid for.
Story three, which can be read online, is an update on the Lindstrand story, which goes on and on, without resolution, demonstrating just how corrupt (in the computer sense of being degraded) our government has become. Story four rehearses the theme we raised in this Blog, about the new EU proposals for the sugar regime, with Booker making the point that the inherent bias towards France is one of the reasons why the CAP is so loved by President Chirac.
Booker concludes with a salutory admonition: It is all very well for Mr Blair to talk airily about reforming the CAP, he writes. What he must remember is that it was devised in the 1960s by France, with the specific purpose of protecting French agriculture, so that the rest of Europe could pay for French surpluses twice over: first by subsidy, then by importing the produce. Despite at least three "reforms" of the CAP since, that principle remains sacrosanct. Mr Blair will be long gone before it is abandoned.
For the final story, Booker has a side-swipe at The Daily Mail – always good fun, especially when the Mail is in a sanctimonious mood. Again, it can be read online.