Fear and Loathing in Europe

Don’t think of who I once was. Reflect on who you are now, and who you would like to be in the future.”

—A tombstone found near Strasbourg

Tony Banks, Labour MP, was working himself into a telegenic lather in the House of Commons the other day. When I say telegenic, I don’t mean to imply that Banks was insincere; his rage positively reeked of sincerity. Who, he said, did this, this…greengrocer, who lived in Mexico and didn’t even pay tax in Britain, think he was an meddle in British affairs? It was an oddly snobbish thing to say about an international tycoon, and Banks spat out the word “greengrocer” as though selling food were a form of mass murder.

The greengrocer in question was Sir James (“Jimmy”) Goldsmith, Anglo-French businessman, member of the European Parliament, leader of the French L’Europe des Nations party and the British Referendum Party. The Referendum Party is actually not so much a party as an electric cattle prod to force the Conservatives to hold a referendum on Britain’s future in Europe. If the referendum is held, the party will cease to exist. Sir James is opposed to further European integration. He is, unusually for a global trader, against global free trade, and he wants to “encourage family units rooted in their own stable communities, bound together by ancestral cultures and confident in their traditions….” He thinks a federal Europe will destroy the “identity” of such communities. And so will global free trade, and too much immigration. “Market forces,” he says, “must be harnessed to the needs of stable communities.” Competition for cheap labor, in his view, will enrich big corporations, dislocate people in poor countries, and deprive European workers of jobs.

Since the Tories have so far refused to hold a referendum, Goldsmith has promised to spend twenty million pounds to field four hundred candidates in the next general election. They will be competing mostly for Tory votes. The candidates are, besides Sir James himself, a curious group, including some louche socialites, the odd celebrity, and retired army officers. One of Goldsmith’s most famous backers is the thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, whose views on Europe read like a blurb on one of his books: “Twice this century Germany has sought to impose a megastate on Europe, and twice is quite enough.” Fatally divided on the European question, the Tories stand little chance of being reelected as it is; Jimmy’s cattle prod might make it impossible. When John Major found out that a chunk of Goldsmith’s money was also being gratefully received by a Tory MP named Bill Cash, who started a European foundation against a federal Europe, he was as furious as Tony Banks. Not only was this suspiciously foreign tycoon buying himself into British politics, but he was paying MPs to undermine their own government.

While this was going on, the same government enraged the rest of the European Union by going …

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Letters

Fear & Loathing in Europe’ January 9, 1997