EU Referendum

A popular feeling of alienation


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Frederick Forsyth did a piece last Wednesday about the evils of "the establishment" which, he writes, "runs the country and has done for centuries".

This is the sort of thing Forsyth can toss off in his bath without even breaking sweat, and it might have been more interesting if he had got past the clichés and looked a little harder at the dynamics that keep his "establishment" in power and the people under control.

Jim Greenhalf has been doing just that, thinking that some of the problems can be put down to a "national identity crisis", which stretches from before we joined the EEC to the current day, a period during which this organisation has had almost as many incarnations as Shakespeare's seven ages of man.

But with the help of a very interesting document known as FCO 30/1048, he has concluded that the identity crisis has been a distraction. While the nation was getting knotted up over identity, a huge amount of national sovereignty has been sheered away from the white cliffs of Dover, deliberately not accidentally.

What has vanished, says Jim, is not the national character. Quoting from FCO 30/1048, we are told by distant foreign office scribes that the British are all deeply conscious through tradition, upbringing and education of the distinctive fact of being British.

In a document written by anonymous officials in 1971, they tell us that, "given our island position and long territorial and national integrity, the traditional relative freedom from comprehensive foreign, especially European alliances and entanglements, this national consciousness may well be stronger than that of most nations".

When "sovereignty" is called into question in the debate about entry to the Community, these anonymous officials say, people may feel that it is this "Britishness" that is at stake. Hence Rippon's then pointed question: "are the French any less French?" for their membership (of the EEC).

Nevertheless, these officials were predicting that entry to the Community would mean major change, and that it was "natural and inevitable that this should be disliked and resisted by many".

But, "as a middle power" we are dependent on others "both for the effective defence of the United Kingdom and also for the commercial and international financial conditions which govern our own economy". Thus, the task will not be to arrest this process of "accommodation and alliance over large areas of policy, domestic as well as external". To do so would be "to put considerations of formal sovereignty before effective influence and power".

Instead, to counter the "popular feeling of alienation from government", our masters had then determined that "strengthened local and regional democratic processes within the member states and effective Community regional economic and social policies" would be "essential".

In a literary turn that I cannot match, Jim then refers to Dostoyevsky who, in his Brothers Karamazov, published in 1879, had already told us that mankind as a whole has always striven to organise a universal state. There have been many great nations with great histories, but the more highly they were developed the more unhappy they were, for they felt more acutely than other people the craving for world-wide union.

In his book, Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor describes how a select group of 100,000 will run the lives of thousands of millions by taking away the anxieties that come with freedom. Ruled by Miracle, Mystery and Authority, the masses will be allowed to work and play and sin, strictly under the control of these religious Bolsheviks.

And so says Jim, the dictatorship of the proletariat has moved westwards. For the time being at least, for all empires fall eventually, we take our orders from a governing class of federal technocrats.

Thus, while the existential crisis of who we are and what we believe is, like the poor, always with us, the carving away of sovereignty, however you define it in relation to power and authority, is a twentieth century decision. The deliberate and progressive erosion of sovereignty, like gum recession, has weakened the teeth of the British bulldog. And, in a final barb, we are warned that there is no point in seeking assurance from Churchill. In his time, this was a man who suggested an international air force.

Emerging from this dissertation, therefore, is the sense that things are catching up with us. FCO 30/1048 was a prediction, a warning that a "popular feeling of alienation from government" would ensue from our membership of that is the EU. And we cannot avoid noting that the idea of giving us elected mayors is one of the militating strategies.

The one comfort we can get from all this is that our current feeling of alienation is neither perverse nor untoward. It was predictable, predicted – and it has come to pass.