Who are they, these 'frenzied Eurosceptics' who want a referendum? Well, depending on which opinion polls we believe, they represent anywhere between 72 per cent and 89 per cent of the British electorate. Among the 'few extreme nationalist politicians' whom Ken Clarke blames for the campaign are, one assumes, Peter Mandelson, Jon Cruddas and Keith Vaz. There is only one way, as far as the Justice Secretary is concerned, to qualify as a moderate, and that is to give your unhesitating support to the backward, anti-democratic and recessionary Euro-project.
My purpose is not to mock Ken Clarke – like Iain Martin, I'm rather fond of the old bruiser – but to analyse his motivation. I'm struck by the fact that, whenever he argues in favour of deeper integration, Ken is not so much pro-EU as anti-Eurosceptic. This latest interview is a classic of its type. Rather than making a case in principle against referendums – or, indeed, a case in principle for continued EU membership – he rails against 'eurosceptics who keep believing that European bogeys are under the bed'. This is the line he has taken throughout. Listen to his reasons for wanting to join the euro ten years ago:
The reality of the euro has exposed the absurdity of many anti-European scares while increasing the public thirst for information. Public opinion is already changing as people can see the success of the new currency on the mainland.
I remember, at around that time, arguing with a Euro-enthusiast friend who was a fanatical Clarkite. Why, I asked, did his champion keep expending political capital in support of something that plainly wasn't going to happen? Britain was nowhere near meeting Gordon Brown's five tests and, in any case, the opinion polls made it unthinkable that Tony Blair would call a referendum. 'This isn't really about the single currency,' replied my friend. 'It isn't even about Europe more widely. It's about showing that there are still some civilised people left in our party'.
It's a terrifying thought that we might have joined the euro, not because it was believed to be in our interest, but as a way to taunt the people who were against it. If you think I'm exaggerating, listen to Will Self's essay on the BBC from a couple of weeks ago:
For myself, I had always been an enthusiastic pro-Eurnpean and an unashamed believer in a federal European state. Like many English people of my tastes and proclivities, I rather fancied myself propping up zinc bars, sipping pastis and listening to the musical chink-clank of petanque. I viewed an increasingly united Europe as a handy cosmopolitan stick with which to beat the backs of uptight Little Englanders.
I'm not suggesting that all euro-enthusiasts think this way. Some of them have plainly come to the sincere, if wrongheaded, view that Britain is better off in the EU. But many more approach the subject by asking not 'What are the costs and benefits to the UK?' but 'What kind of person am I?' Having defined the issue, in their own minds at any rate, as a Kulturkampf between liberal cosmopolitans and prejudiced Blimps, they became uninterested in arguments about exchange rates and debt levels. Extraordinarily, many of them are still at it. Take a moment to read these words by Norman Davies. Odd, really, how those so quick to decry prejudice in others are quite unable to spot it in themselves.
I can't believe I'm having to write this, but it's generally a mistake to base your foreign policy around irritating people whom you don't like. When you do, you end up – well, you end up in the mess the EU is in now.