In getting himself sacked for failing to change his mind over the UK’s membership of the EU, Lord Heseltine somehow managed to get himself projected as a man of principle whilst all around him in the Tory party have lost all theirs. It turns out, though, that his views aren’t so very different after all. For years, the more rabid Brexiteers have been telling us that the EU was all a plot to enable the Germans to control Europe without resorting to force, and that we should leave to avoid falling under their domination. From his latest pronunciation, it seems that Heseltine broadly agrees with the diagnosis, but feels that the best way to stop German domination is to remain within. This is not some great disagreement of principle; it is a shared mindset in which the only difference is about the best way of achieving the desired end.
Perhaps it’s a generational thing; for Heseltine’s generation, the second world war was a defining period in history. And it’s easy to see how such a horrific catastrophe for mankind in general and Europe in particular would leave a scar and shape people’s views for the rest of their lives. But this obsession with ‘the war’ and the competition and rivalry which gave rise to it is still poisoning our relationship with the other countries of Europe 70 years after the event. And it completely fails to recognise that one of the main objectives of those setting up the precursors of today’s EU was to replace that rivalry and competition with co-operation and unity of purpose; to ensure that the European family of nations would never again tear the continent apart as it did twice in the first half of the twentieth century.
It’s not that the rest of Europe is simply trying to forget the events of the past, it’s more like most of Europe has learned one lesson from the first half of the twentieth century, and one offshore state has either failed to learn it, or has learnt something completely different. The majority have concluded that peace can best be maintained through pooling, sharing and co-operating, whilst the outlier continues to regard everyone else as a potential enemy, to be contained and controlled, and above all kept at a distance. The ‘divide and conquer’ mindset lingers on long after it has ceased to be relevant or useful, and is now becoming a destructive force.
One of the clear outcomes of the referendum last June was the difference in voting patterns between young and old – the younger electors were overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU whilst it was the older age groups who voted to leave. There is at least the hope that most of the younger generation are taking a very different view of our relationship with the rest of Europe than most of those born before, during, or in the immediate aftermath of the war. Not for nothing will the Brexiteers continue to insist that we all fall in line and that there should be no second chance. This could well be their last opportunity to impose their mindset on the rest of us; a last desperate attempt to return to the certainties of their past. All the more reason to resist them.