I was sitting at my computer, replying to messages a couple of days ago when a British friend sent me a video of a three minute intervention in the European Parliament in Strasbourg by the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Nigel Farage.
Throughout my 17 years as a newspaper chairman and member of Their Lordships' House in Britain, I fought against British integration in Europe. That position was eventually shared by most of the British, though it was opposed by almost all of the Labour Party, absolutely all of the Liberal Democrats, and, at one time, most of the Conservatives, including the treacherous ingrates who stabbed Margaret Thatcher in the back and ended the term of Britain's greatest peace-time prime minister (and also one of its greatest war premiers).
I pressed the button to play the video, expecting a refreshing statement of the obvious, "as polls show that 80 per cent of the British now want to quit Europe altogether." (That could be overreaction; it might be an acceptable common market if the Dutch and Belgian Niebelungen who run the European Commission would stop trying to coordinate everything from the stacking of bananas in supermarkets to the size of condoms, from Cadiz to Bialystock.)
Before Mr. Farage was half through, my sides were splitting. His was the greatest and most eloquent and apposite utterance I have heard from any British public figure since Sir Jimmy Goldsmith told a conference I was hosting at the British Conservative Party Conference in 1996 that "France thinks it can ride the German stallion, but will learn that it is only the stable boy!" (France is learning it now; Jimmy's astute prediction was greeted with fervent cries of "Bloody wogs!" and "Shame!")
The UKIP leader packed a mighty wallop in a few words. He quoted the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who said the $100 billion bail-out of the Spanish banks proved "the strength of the Eurozone." This, according to Farage, proved that Rajoy was the most incompetent leader in Europe, despite fierce competition for that honour. He pointed out that the president of the European Commission had told Parliament -- to which he is supposedly, in some measure, answerable, and which installed him in his sinecure -- at his last appearance there some weeks before, that the euro crisis was "over." But the president, Mr. Rompuy, had "done a runner" and not shown his face in Parliament since.
With delicious irony, Farage quoted the official statement that accompanied the Constitution of Lisbon 10 years ago, (one of the most fatuous state papers accorded any credence by governments of serious countries in all history), that in 2012 there would be no unemployment in Europe and the old continent would have become the economic powerhouse of the world. The whey-faced Eurocrats who surrounded Farage in this absurd talking shop -- where there are normally more interpreters than legislators, because, unlike those whose inanities they translate, the interpreters have to attend to be paid -- stared about, bovine and oblivious, as if he were speaking one of the few languages not officially understood there.
Farage said that cleaning up the Spanish banks would take closer to $400 billion, which is probably true and an astounding testimony to the stupefying idiocy of the Spanish lenders, though most European and American banks were no better. As the former vice chairman of Citigroup explained, "When the music was playing, we all had to dance." But the UKIP leader added the "best part:" the $100 billion includes $20 billion from Italy, which is almost as equally distressed fiscally as Spain, and which is supposedly paid three per cent on its loans to the Spanish banks, but borrows at seven per cent to rummage up the payments to Spain. Thus, he explained, every bailout, the Greeks, Irish, Portuguese, and Spanish, puts further pressure on already endangered countries.
Though he was not so communautaire as to describe it in these terms, his pièce de résistance was that the European Central Bank has $440 billion of exposure to the bailed-out countries; those bail-outs will be mainly unsuccessful, and will be followed by others. The European Central Bank will then make a cash call and go back to what will be the lengthening list of countries it has helped bail out, to bail it out. "It doesn't get any better than this; you couldn't make it up!"
He's correct, of course, and his party should be rewarded for it. The current U.K. government is a pantomime horse of Conservatives claiming to "modernize" conservatism, and the pallid detritus of the old Liberals, back in peace time government after an absence of 80 years. The chief virtue of this regime is that it is exposing the silliness and hypocrisy of the Liberal Democratic coalition partner (the hind legs). The Labour Party is led by a throwback to the troglodytic "old left," (Ed Miliband) in rebellion against the Blair-Brown legacy of New Labour, whose great achievement was that it took them three terms to run Britain into the ditch, unlike that party's former regimes which managed that feat in only one term, under prime ministers Macdonald, Attlee, Wilson, and Callaghan. None of them was reelected to consecutive full terms until Blair, who took three terms before squandering the Thatcher-Major heritage of prudent finances, respect in the world, and abstention from hare-brained fads like global warming.
Farage has run five times unsuccessfully for Parliament. Next time, he and his party will do better, deservedly. Britain ditched the venerable Commonwealth -- whose principal members, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa, had done their all for the United Kingdom in the World Wars -- to plunge into the European Union. Thatcher sensibly put the brakes on that and threw herself and her country into the arms of the special relationship with the United States, which Obama has discarded like a rumpled overcoat.
What Britain should do now is work to resurrect a Commonwealth executive committee of advanced or unusually promising countries, led by the those mentioned above (provided South Africa shows a little more aptitude for self-governemnt and ther ruling ANC stops brazenly pocketing $1 billion bribes), and Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei. It would be a bloc of over $7 billion of GDP and could be a coherent and serious entity in the world, unlike the EU or even, temporarily, the United States.
Unfortunately, the only person who seems to have any vision of such an initiative is the outstanding new Australian foreign minister and former premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr.