CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. What we'll lose if we reject Labour (Independent)

Johann Hari says that a vote against Labour would be a betrayal of the party that gave us higher public spending, the minimum wage, tax credits and civil partnerships. Tactical voting by the anti-Tory majority could deny David Cameron outright victory and pave the way for electoral reform.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

2. The last Brown and Cameron battle could be yet to come (Guardian)

If Labour comes a decent second in the popular vote and even wins the largest number of seats, Gordon Brown will stay put in Downing Street and call the Lib Dems' bluff, says Seumas Milne. The Prime Minister is even expected to offer a referendum on full proportional representation.

3. Unsure how to vote? My contortions may help (Times)

David Aaronovitch argues that while Britain needs a new prime minister, the country also needs a Labour Party that can still be the best hope for social justice at home and progress abroad. Voters should choose Labour over the opportunistic and self-interested Liberal Democrats.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

4. Reform the euro or bin it (Guardian)

The Greek financial crisis has put the very survival of the euro at risk, says Joseph Stiglitz. Europe must implement the institutional reforms that should have been made when the currency was launched.

5. BP is drilling itself into deep water (Financial Times)

The BP Gulf of Mexico disaster is an example of the safety and environmental dangers that it and other oil companies face by drilling in such difficult spots, writes John Gapper.

6. Back the person, not the party (Independent)

Voters should support the candidate most likely to raise the quality of the House of Commons, says Andreas Whittam Smith. That means ruling out expenses cheats as well as timeservers.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

7. Call in the IMF to tell us how bad it really is (Times)

If the Conservatives win tomorrow, they should turn to the IMF to lay out a plan that the government can present as the Authorised Version, writes Camilla Cavendish.

8. The fantastical dream of a united Korea (Financial Times)

Polls may suggest that half of all South Koreans wish for national reunification, but North Koreans rarely receive a warm welcome when they enter the country, says David Pilling.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

9. My moment is yours, Balls (Guardian)

Ed Balls should not despair if he loses his seat tonight, says Michael Portillo. Life is better outside Westminster.

10. A bracing reminder of the price we pay for political freedom (Daily Telegraph)

Benedict Brogan reflects on a visit to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and recalls that the greatest duty of the nation and its politicians is to remember the cost of freedom.

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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.