David Cameron is behaving like one of Graham Greene’s flawed heroes, says Spear’s Editor-in-Chief William Cash
Shortly before David Cameron became prime minister in the hung parliament of 2010, he revealed that his favourite novelist was Graham Greene. He told a biographer that he went through a ‘manic Greene phase’ and read all of his novels. The trouble with such a literary confession is that most of the protagonists or narrators of Greene novels are flawed, doomed individuals – at best anti-heroes for our morally and politically grey modern times. What almost all have in common is that they run out of luck.
In many cases, they are essentially good characters who find themselves out of their depth – or ‘found out’ – in a world whose amoral forces become simply too great for them. They often make bad decisions. Their education and experience has not trained them for the struggles and dilemmas they face – Anthony Farrell in England Made Me comes to mind.
They make ill-fated and disastrous human choices that swiftly result in their own suicide, self-destruction or death. Certainly, Greene’s characters tend to be poor negotiators (Scobie) who usually come to a bad ending – whether they are negotiating with God, the police, cut-throat-razor-carrying Brighton gangs, corrupt businessmen or colonial politicians.
We will not know whether David Cameron has signed his own political death warrant by failing to deliver any fundamental EU reforms in his referendum deal until June 23rd. He brought up a spirited and bold performance in the Commons yesterday. But the news that Boris Johnson is coming out for the Leave campaign has certainly added colour and drama to the referendum campaign.
The next four months offer an opportunity for magazines like Spear’s to investigate and analyse the information and misinformation presented by all sides in the upcoming referendum campaign. Spear’s will publish articles and commentary from all sides, and all camps – both ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ – allowing our readers to make up their own minds.
Any members of London’s wealth management or banking community who want to send us their views and articles are welcome to do so. We will aim to offer our usual ‘sharp and to the point’ commentary as well as turning our new website into an online debating chamber that publishes the best opinions, blogs and articles on an issue that will have a profound impact on the fortunes of the UK financial services industry.
Despite any short-term drop in the value of sterling – a predictable response by international banks – Boris Johnson is right to say that the City has no reason to run scared. Cameron said that he couldn’t understand why Johnson wouldn’t support the City, ‘our great financial capital’. But the truth is that if Switzerland doesn’t need to be in the EU to be a financial capital, there is no reason why London needs to be. In fact, the opposite could be the case. Outside of the EU, London can return once again to doing what we have done so well since the 16th century, whether it was with cotton, silk, banking or coal: trade with the world.
It is no secret that France and Germany are envious of London’s position as the financial capital of choice for the world’s top banks, law firms and accounting firms. There are well over 100 different countries which have foreign banks and law firms operating in London. London is more than capable of standing up for itself as a ‘Singapore of Europe’ with its own democratic self-governing parliament that trades globally – rather than being reduced to little more than a regulated financial province of an EU super-state.
Johnson’s dramatic entry onto the referendum centre political stage is likely to make a difference. The reason is that Boris reaches out to the very voters who are actually going to be out voting – come rain, Lear-like storm or hail – on June 23rd. My instinct is that the polls may well get their predictions wrong again, as their research teams and operations are not suited to ‘single issue’ plebiscites, which are very different from general elections.
A referendum on the fundamental issue of British ‘sovereignty’ is an issue that grassroots activists in Conservative and Labour associations across the country – Leave camp voters – feel passionately about. Nothing will stop them knocking on door to ‘get the vote out’ on June 23rd. Those inclined towards the status quo (i.e., Remain) are likely to have much less ‘pavement power’, and will not have any thing like the same level of activist door-knockers around the country. This is partly what happened in the Alternative Vote plebiscite of May, 2011, which only had a turnout of just 42 per cent. Incidentally it was won partly thanks to the same team now running the Vote Leave campaign. And that was without a figure of Johnson’s stature helping to galvanise grass-root support.
Like Michael Gove, Johnson cites personal concerns over the creeping powers of Brussels, in particular the way that the European Court of Justice now has authority over UK courts, making a nonsense of our own law-making powers – and ability to rule our own country. But the problem with using the word ‘sovereignty’ is that alarmingly few today (outside of academia or the Westminster bubble) actually know what the word means.
Mention the word ‘sovereignty’ to your average voter on the street, or market square, and their eyes will invariably glaze over. Alas, when politicians want to explain the concept of parliamentary sovereignty today – and what its loss means to a self-governing nation whose notion of a sovereign parliament goes back to Simon de Montfort, creator of the first English parliament in the 13th century – they have to use code phrases like ‘take our country back’, ‘control our borders’.
Cameron, of course, as a former pupil, at Brasenose College, Oxford, of the eminent constitutional historian Vernon Bognor, knows exactly what sovereignty means. But he is a PR man by profession, not a journalist. On the Andrew Marr Show, he showed us his silky- smooth PR skills in attempting to claim that ‘sovereignty’ today means having ‘influence’ on the world stage.
But as Dominic Lawson so witheringly put it in his Daily Mail column, (‘Cameron and the Cynical Lie That’s Festered for 45 Years’) for an Oxford man with a first class degree in PPE to describe the concept of sovereignty as ‘to get things done’ was to give a ‘pathetic’ answer. Beta double minus or worse. Cameron went on to say that having a democratic parliament ‘might give you a feeling of sovereignty, but it would be an illusion of sovereignty.’
An illusion? When asked by my father Bill Cash on the floor of the House yesterday to clarify his position as to what he meant by saying our parliamentary sovereignty was an illusion, Cameron repeated his suggestion that ‘influence’ was more important than actual sovereignty. Boris Johnson followed suit and was rebuffed by Cameron with a similar answer when asked how his ‘deal’ with EU had reclaimed any sovereignty for the British parliament.
Yet Cameron knows only too well that he has failed to deliver any meaningful safeguards for British sovereignty. Lawson defers to Sir Noel Malcolm, whose 1991 book Sense On Sovereignty gives the following definition: ‘What qualifies a state as sovereign is a matter of plenary and exclusive competence, of enjoying full authority internally and not being subordinated to the authority of another state.’ Accepting this definition, added Lawson, the British Parliament and government ‘are not sovereign’.
Now, finally, we are getting to the Heart of the Matter; and why Cameron and Osborne may be losing their firm grip on the levers of power, or at least control of their party as witnessed on the floor of the Commons yesterday. If Cameron remains in any doubt as to why ‘sovereignty’ matters, perhaps he should recall that the last time that a British prime minister called a Saturday Cabinet meeting was when Mrs Thatcher fought the Falklands War, a sovereignty battle that Cameron will have followed on TV as a teenager at Eton. Did I mention the other two world wars that were fought in the name of ‘freedom’ last century? Were they fought for the ‘illusion’ of sovereignty ?
The behind-the-poltical-curtains story of how, since the EEC Referendum of 1975, our elected senior politicians and civil servants effectively sold off British sovereignty to the supra-national EU, without letting the British people really know what they were giving away, is yet to be told. In the late Hugo Young’s book on the subject, This Blessed Plot, (the title is from Richard II) there are various chilling chapters on the treachery of our elected politicians – the cast includes Wilson, John Major and his Iago-like accomplice Tristan Garel-Jones, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now David Cameron.
Young brutally exposes the treachery and political deceit of what really went on in the political backrooms on London and Brussels during the 1975 referendum as well as other key events and treaties including the Treaty of Rome, the Madrid summit, the Lisbon summit, and above all Maastricht. We also get the backstage story behind the Single European Act of 1986, the real meaning of which in the small print (not brought to the attention of Thatcher by her most ‘trusted’ civil servants, such as Charles Powell, let alone to the public) signed away the UK’s veto of any legislation passed by Brussels by signing up to the ‘majority voting’ principle.
Young does a particularly good exposé of the deception on the British public by John Major, another politician who was ‘found out’ by his own party as well as finding himself out of his depth in the shifting sands of realpolitik. Major failed to understand how he was being used and manipulated by EU and Civil Service forces that were beyond his power to control. This was not a problem that Margaret Thatcher suffered from. Even in one of her last speeches on the floor of the Commons, after her resignation, she made her feelings clear about the dangers of creeping EU influence over British sovereignty. She referred to the Maastricht Treaty as a ‘treaty too far’ and said ‘I could never have signed that treaty’.
The only problem with the late Hugo Young’s excellent account of the British political class’s backstage relationship with the EU state is that his book ends in 1997. A follow-up account is needed before June 23rd, bringing up to date the story of how the British public have been deceived by the UK’s political establishment. Young’s account very deliberately includes the word ‘plot’ in its title – taken from Shakespeare’s famous John of Gaunt speech in Richard II. The book makes Act V of Julius Caesar look like a kindergarten of political intrigue.
Although the political project nature of the EEC was never spelt out to voters in 1975 at the referendum – which the likes of Margaret Thatcher supported – it is clear that our senior politicians knew more than they were letting on about the sovereignty implications when they negotiated to join the EEC.
Cameron knows full well that he is lying when he tries to brush off Briitish ‘sovereignty’ as being a mere form of elite political influence. In the words of historian Sir Noel Malcolm – whom Dominic Lawson took the trouble to check with before writing his column – sovereignty can only be described as a ‘self-governing democracy’. To this end, Cameron’s ‘deal’ with the EU has not resulted in the substantial reforms promised in his famous Bloomberg speech. Both Johnson and Gove have expressed their grave concerns over how the EU project has turned from a common market ‘free trade’ enterprise into a political project with a glaring democratic deficit.
No amount of tinkering by Oliver Letwin with a new so distant ‘sovereignty bill’ will make any difference to the fact that true ‘state’ authority links with the European Court of Justice and the 30,000 officials of the unelected EU super-state. As Boris rightly said, our parliamentary sovereignty does not reside in unelected and unaccountable politicians. It resides with the people of democratic and sovereign countries. It cannot be exercised through ‘single judicial orders’ that are issued by a European Court of Justice that has no court of appeal or redress.
Speaking up for sovereignty is the right and measured way to present the argument rather than whipping up nationalistic concerns over immigration. It’s not that there are not serious issues that need addressing over the migrant crisis and urban over-population that is putting an intolerable pressure on housing, schools, and our NHS. It’s just that the UK sovereignty rather than supra-national EU state argument simply more important than the immigration issue.
The latter – the ability to control one’s own borders and decide who can work in this country – can only be exercised if one still has one’s own parliamentary sovereignty and the ability to make ones own rules and laws. Parliamentary sovereignty is the starting point of all debate, as without a self-governing democracy, we can’t control any of our laws – from immigration to child benefit payments.
When I was growing up in a political family – and there is an entire chapter in Young’s book called ‘Europe Made Me’ on my father Bill Cash’s efforts to break the EU ‘plot’ – my two heroes were the German academic and liberal social philosopher Ralf Dahrendorf and the political TV interviewer Brian Walden, a former Labour MP who ended up as the best TV interrogator of his generation.
When the Hamburg-born Dahrendorf wrote his book, On Britain, also a TV series, examine why Britain was in decline, what almost nobody watching on the BBC knew was that prior to taking up his role as Director of the London School of Economics, he had briefly been a controversial former German Commissioner to the European Commission in Brussels following a stint as Parliamentary Secretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He arrived in Brussels as a liberal who regarded the EU as a sacrosanct guardian of fair play, human rights and liberty.
Within twelve months, he was so appalled at the undemocratic political project he witnessed in Brussels that he wrote a series of pseudonymous articles for Die Zeit exposing the workings of the European Commission. This was one reason he ended up at the LSE in England – he needed a new job abroad after making himself unpopular as an ‘intellectual traitor’ in Germany.
Dahrendorf had witnessed Britain’s efforts to try and get a seat at the table of the EEC after being blackballed by De Gaulle in the late 1960s. He even sat in the Commission next to Jean-Francois Deniau, who was chief negotiator for the EEC in the negotiations with the UK. ‘I wanted Britain in Europe; at the same time, I had already come to the conclusion that there was a worrying discrepancy between the needs of Europe and the reality of the European Communities. This meant there was a discrepancy also between the political intentions of the British Government, and the economic realities of the EEC’.
This political diagnosis was before we even joined in 1975; before the sovereignty slide – or hand-over – that began with our entry to the EEC. As a political exile from Germany. living in London, Dahrendorf – who ended up in the Lords – understood why Britain and Europe’s EU political project are always going to be at loggerheads. Britain may have a sovereign Parliament, but its professions and legal system and executive are independent; or at least were before the European Court of Justice became our supreme authority. Unlike on the Continent, where the legal system, education and banks are controlled by the state, in the UK such institutions are independent. They are autonomous and self-governing. ‘They are, as it were, the institutional barons of a society which has never been a state society.’
And this is the critical point. Whilst the Continent – largely because of their 20th-century history, with many of the 28 EU countries not having had the benefit of hundreds of years of parliamentary democracy – knows nothing other than a ‘state’ society, our democratic sovereign experience is thankfully very different. It is for this reason that the five foot parliamentary Mace – a gilt club carried before the sovereign on state occasions – which lies on the table of the Commons is a symbol of the ultimate sovereign authority from where parliamentary power symbolically resides.
The Mace is a reminder of the very origins of our parliamentary system in the 13th century by baron-turned-ruler Simon de Montford. He founded the first parliament, which stripped the king of autocratic authority and replaced it with a system in which the ranks of medieval ‘barons’ were given independent power over their lands in return for serving and protecting the king. Thus the mace-bearer serves as a representative of the supreme constitutional authority. The power and authority of the two parliamentary maces – in both the Commons and Lords – is derived from the fact that a ‘mace’ was a lethal medieval weapon used by knights to defend the king. Without the Mace present in the Commons chamber, no laws can be passed.
That is what is meant by sovereignty. The only way politically and legally to reclaim our sovereignty is to leave the EU. That is why major City figures like Lord Lamont, Crispin Odey, Ruth Lea of Arbuthnot Banking, Luke Johnson, and other City CEOs are joining Boris Johnson in backing Brexit. The idea that the City – and our £126-billion financial services industry that makes it the fifth largest sector in the UK – would be disadvantaged by Britain no longer being part of the EU is, of course, a spurious myth.
There is an equally good case that London will only prosper and further flourish as a financial capital of the world outside of the banking regulations of the EU. Which is why HSBC were happy to announce that they are staying in London, regardless of the 23rd June vote.
Predictably, the CEOs of American and European banks and big business firms will sign letters to The Times and FT supporting the Remain campaign. But, for the most part, these global CEOs are not even entitled to vote on June 23rd. It is the British people who are. It is British parliamentary sovereignty and the national interests of the UK that is at stake on June 23rd. Not the balance sheets, profits and short term commercial interests of international banks.
Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative party candidate for Mayor, and son of Referendum Party founder Sir James Goldsmith, has also declared for Leave. ‘We would be better off out of the EU, and I will be voting to leave,’ Goldsmith said. ‘I recognise that opinion in London is at best divided on this issue, and as a mayoral candidate, it would be easier for me to quietly U-turn. But I didn’t get involved in politics to test every idea with pollsters, flip flop on the big issues and then carry on regardless once elected.’
Whilst aware that not all of Britain ‘Big Business’ bosses will agree with him, he makes the valid point that British businesses – especially smaller and medium-sized UK firms hampered by EU red-tape and employment laws – do not ‘speak with one voice. And a growing number of large businesses have stated that Britain would flourish, or at least not be disadvantaged by leaving the EU.’
Cameron has rightly described the vote on June 23rd as ‘the most important of our lifetime’. The decision has placed him on the edge of the European political precipice, with the sovereign fate of Britain – and his own career – very much at stake. As a fan of Greene, he will certainly have read The End of the Affair, published in 1951. Indeed, this could be a fitting newspaper headline on June 23rd. I wonder if he knows that the original title of Greene’s novel was actually ‘The Point of Departure’?.
Whether the result of the June 23rd vote will see the departure of Cameron from Downing Street remains to be seen. Certainly, if Boris leads an ‘Out’ campaign that wins, it is almost impossible to imagine Cameron not having to call the removal vans. One thing is certain, our relationship with Europe will never be the same again after June 23rd.
The real question is whether it will be the end of what has been a messy ‘on-off’ affair with Europe – or a bitter and permanent divorce. Like a wife who knows a marriage is doomed, Cameron’s attempts to get the EU member states to sign a post-nup agreement with the UK – some forty years after they went down the aisle in 1975 – has ended in failure.At least by the terms he set out himself in his Bloomberg speech.
The political stage is now set for a Circus Maximus showdown between Boris and Dave (the Political Establishment versus modern Britain’s answer to Falstaff). The next four months are set to be dramatic political theatre. Looking back over his tenure as prime minister, it’s fairly easy to see why Cameron may well empathise with the dilemmas faced by Greene’s heroes. Part of Cameron’s personal problem – and this will be felt acutely on June 23rd – is that he won the 2015 General Election not because he was popular but because he presented the only viable and serious alternative to the threat from the SNP and lacklustre and non-serious Labour candidate.
A major reason for Greene’s success as a major novelist is that, like Dickens, he manages to pull off the difficult trick of being both popular and serious. The same applies to Boris Johnson. This combination of qualities may well prove what helps to set him apart from Cameron – and Osborne. The latter may come across Caesar-like serious in the Commons and on TV, but in real life, off-duty, is much more witty and relaxed than Cameron, who may be said to lack Boris’s ‘human factor’.
Johnson’s somewhat bumbling Sunday afternoon appearance on the sweeping stone steps in front of the black painted front door of his grand stucco Islington Georgian townhouse was a good example of Boris at his strategic best. Instead of doing a ‘pooled’ TV interview in the drawing room of his house – or even inside a BBC and Sky studio – and then following up with his Telegraph column, Boris very deliberately chose to court the media and publicly ‘out’ himself on a London pavement in Highgate Hill, sans wooden lecturn, sans notes or script, sans steel barricades such as outside Downing Street.
This is well choreographed political theatre. It could almost have been a scene from I, Claudius – the Roman press mob paying a Sunday visit to a senator’s villa on a hill outside Rome. Will he or won’t he declare himself? For the people, or the political class? All that was missing was a shot of Johnson tending to his vineyard or clipping his yew hedge.
As soon as the political editors had departed, Sky News cut to the black painted door of 10 Downing Street. The street empty, the curtains closed inside, and not a journalist in sight. Just a solitary police guard outside the front door. Without even having to spell out the obvious message of cutting from Highgate to Downing Street, Sky ended their clip with their political editor adding a voiceover: ‘Cameron likes to describe Boris Johnson as his star striker. Only now his star player is facing him on the other side of the pitch.’
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – helped by such generals such as Zak Goldsmith, and the Gang of Six including Ian Duncan Smith and Pritti Patel – are certainly shaping up to look like a formidable team. Unlike Ancient Rome, where there was no social media, TV studios, BBC radio cars, newspapers or internet, this referendum battleground will be – in the end – a war of words referred by the media kingmakers. Tablets and smart phones are today’s political swords. And to this end it is worth recalling that the two leading figures of Leave – Johnson and Gove – are both highly experienced journalists (The Spectator and The Times respectively), both, critically, with national newspapers behind them in a way that Cameron and Osborne do not.
Whilst Cameron may – as a PR spin-merchant for Carlton – think he is a professional master of ‘using’ the media for his own ends, he is suddenly starting to resemble one of Greene’s characters who is standing on the ‘dangerous edge of things’. In short, he is up against a political team that have made their careers from getting their message across, and successfully using the media for their own ends.
Johnson has been working for The Telegraph for over 25 years and is so valued that he is paid around £250,000 a year for his weekly column. His wife Marina only two weeks ago wrote a scathing article about the democratic inadequacies of the European Court of Justice, which has the supra-national power to overrule or overturn any UK court or parliamentary law. The ECJ is now the supreme court of the European Union, answerable to nobody, unelected and unaccountable.
Gove is known to be on god personal terms with Rupert Murdoch. He retains close links to the Times and Sunday Times, being a former Times colleague of Martin Ivens, editor of the Sunday Times. Gove’s wife Sarah Vine – who made her feelings very clear about Gove’s demotion by Cameron from Education Secretary to Chief Whip before the election – is a well paid weekly columnist for the Daily Mail. It is not just Gove and Johnson as the ‘Leave’ camp’s top strikers, both also have ‘active’ wives who carry their own equally well sharpened media/legal swords in supporting roles.
Much of the propaganda being put out by both sides deserves to be speared. An example is the cynical betrayal of his former political master – peddled by Charles Powell a few weeks ago when he claimed that Margaret Thatcher would have voted to stay in the EU and was a closet pro-EU Europhile. This turned out to be pure fiction, an example of the cynical Establishment lies being peddled by an increasingly desperate pro-EU faculty. That the Sunday Times published the front-page article without declaring Powell’s personal vested commercial interests was regrettable.
How do we know Powell was peddling EU propaganda? Well, unfortunately for Powell, Baroness Thatcher revealed privately to journalists such as Charles Moore, Christopher Booker, and Times journalist Rachel Sylvester that she would not have voted for the Maastricht Treaty. My father, Sir Bill Cash, then produced a ‘knock-out’ signed letter on her private notepaper that revealed Thatcher’s opposition to the Maastricht Treaty – which she described as ‘being against crystal clear. Powell was exposed as a discredited EU crony, and Annunziata Rees-Mogg (sister of Jacob) successfully exposed Powell as a EU phony on Newsnight.
Back to those copies of Greene novels on Cameron’s bedside table. Does Cameron’s admiration for Greene tell us anything about him? In Greene’s novels, the more godless and meaningless the universe becomes, the more his readers are fascinated by characters whose actions have moral consequences. If we in the West have largely moved beyond religion, there remains something curiously reassuring about a fictional world that displays some design or purpose, even if its heroes are alienated and self-damned sinners.
The best of Greene’s novels are those that grapple with big questions of faith and self-doubt. Cameron is not a conviction politician like Margaret Thatcher. Struggling with what his conscience, or what his beliefs, really are, seems to be part of his appeal. Nobody can accuse Cameron of being a cabinet dictator, or a phone-thrower like Gordon Brown. He is a very human and doubtless charming politician with good values. But having been brought up with such good values maybe part of the problem. His English values and the EU values are not the same, hence his failure to secure a deal in line with his Bloomberg speech.
Greene’s work chimed with the anxieties of his time. His own politics were to the left although he felt more at home in English country houses than Comrade Clubs. This peculiar brand of self-doubt seemed only to increase Greene’s popular appeal. Perhaps this is what Cameron empathised with. Greene created lonely and paradoxical characters whose personal struggles articulated the grey and shifting moral anxieties of the 20th century: Scobie, the pity-riddled and adulterous policeman in The Heart of the Matter or Bendrix, the God-hating lover and novelist in The End of the Affair. What Greene and Cameron seem to have in common is that they subscribe to a view of the world that is never black and white; and much of Greene’s grim cynicism came from his own sense of disappointment. Mostly with himself.
I cannot speak for Cameron but Greene was always hard on himself. Greene liked to say, ‘No man is a success to himself.’ Asked by a journalist what he thought he had achieved in his life, Greene replied: ‘I’ve accomplished a little bit and I’ve failed a good deal. One fails in all sorts of ways in life, which are much more important than writing books. In human relations and that sort of thing’. Or political relations? Whether Cameron truly feels as if his deal with the EU is really a ‘success’ only he really knows. Meanwhile, as he plots to see off the Leave campaign, he can always take comfort from re-reading The Ministry of Fear.