Bill Carmichael: Thin reasons for repentance

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NIGEL Lawson has undergone a remarkable transformation since he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1980s – both in his physical appearance and his political views.

Today he is so slim as to be positively gaunt, a sharp contrast to the familiar tubby figure of the Thatcher era who showed off his red Budget Box for the cameras outside Number 11 Downing Street.

But the change in his politics is even more dramatic. Back then, he was such an ardent EU enthusiast that he was the architect of the policy of tying the pound sterling to the value of the Deutschmark in a move designed to pave the way for the introduction of the single currency. He was also part of a cabal of Conservative Euro-fanatics who engineered Margaret Thatcher’s downfall, at least partly because of her reluctance to dump the pound.

This week Lawson completed a two-decade long U-turn by announcing a remarkable change of heart – now he not only wants Britain stay out of the euro, but he argues we should leave the EU entirely.

Lawson says he has renounced his previous views because the EU has become a “bureaucratic monstrosity” and the benefits of leaving “substantially outweigh the costs”. Alleluia! There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over 99 just persons who need no repentance, as the Bible puts it.

But welcome though his conversion to the Euro-realist cause is, I am afraid his explanation for his change of views just doesn’t wash. Europe was just as bureaucratic, costly and contemptuous of democracy back in the 1980s, when Lawson was heading the cheerleading squad, as it is today. But at least he has the grace to admit he got it wrong, unlike his fellow Euro federalists such as Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine or Nick Clegg.

The facts on the ground have changed. The euro has been an unmitigated disaster and the case for remaining handcuffed to the bloated corpse of the EU becomes weaker by the day.

But the most telling part of Lawson’s intervention this week was his scornful response to David Cameron’s plan to claw back powers from Brussels. In a withering assessment, he said that any reforms the Prime Minister was likely to secure would be “inconsequential”. Surely he is right. There is no appetite in Europe for renegotiation. The Germans see the answer to Europe’s problems as more integration, not less.

In other words, Britain and the rest of Europe are travelling in opposite directions and the only solution is to file for an amicable divorce. The weakness of the pro-European cause was exemplified this week when Nick Clegg was reduced to using dodgy statistics to argue that leaving the EU would be costly to the UK’s economy.

But the huge successes of those European countries that chose to stay outside the EU flatly contradict the Lib Dem leader. They enjoy higher growth, lower unemployment and vastly superior living standards.

So the pro-Europe argument amounts to this: Beware! If the UK leaves the EU, we could end up as successful and prosperous as Switzerland or Norway.

Oh, the horrors!

Striking contrast

APPARENTLY, 12,000 members of the PCS union have been on strike this week.

No, I didn’t notice either.

In the old days unions mattered. When the miners went on strike the lights went out. When the dockers walked out, the shelves were bare of groceries. When the railwaymen struck, the country ground to a halt. Today, a strike means your diversity and equality outreach co-ordinator takes the day off.

The problem isn’t the strike, but that 
they insist on coming back to work when it’s over.