The other night I chaired a very enjoyable discussion with one of my favourite lefty columnists - the wrong-on-some-things but mostly pretty sound David Aaronovitch. We were talking about his excellent new book Voodoo Histories, which you'll like very much if you don't believe in conspiracy theories but which will get you very cross if you do.
Think 9/11 was a conspiracy by Mossad (hence those 4,000 Jews who were supposedly warned not to come to work that day)? Or perhaps by the lizard-headed uber race they call the Illuminati? Or even by the US government itself, which of course brought down the twin towers with missiles disguised as aeroplanes - according to MI5 expert David Shayler - with some kind of holographic "cloaking" device? Well, Aaronovitch has some bad news for you. It was none of the above but a fellow named Osama Bin Laden.
He is similarly down on the idea that rogue MI5 agents in the service of the state bumped off elderly rose-grower Hilda Murrell in the Eighties on the account of the fact that she was against nuclear power. (Nope, it was a random burglar); that Princess Diana was bumped off by the Duke of Edinburgh (nope; it was a car crash); that Kennedy was assassinated simultaneously by any number of interested parties (nope; it was a lone gunman - with previous form in this regard - named Lee Harvey Oswald); that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a secret love child whose bloodline has been hidden from generation unto generation by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci (nope, nope, and thrice nope); that Marilyn Monroe was administered a barbituarate enema by the Mafia (nope, it was just an overdose); and so on.
In fact there's only one passage in the book I take issue with. It's a throwaway few lines near the beginning where Aaronovitch laughs at a chapter he has read called "The European Union Unmasked: Dictatorship Revealed" by a former MOD civil servant called Lindsay Jenkins. This, Aaronovitch explains, "details the Eurocratic plot to destroy nation states."
"At one point Jenkins suggests that the encouragement of regionalism is part of this complicated conspiracy, the idea being to weaken Europeans and render them unable to resist the idea of the superstate. So she writes 'Insistence on the use of minority languages, especially in educating children, will ensure that the locality is isolated and will limit the opportunities for people in the wider world. It will make them second-class citizens and easier to control. All regional assemblies will have multiple translation services, which will further reduce their effectiveness.' A theory which I suppose could be summed up as 'How the Welsh destroyed the United Kingdom.'"
Implicit in Aaronovitch's wonderfully dismissive quip is the assumption that no sane or reasonable person could possibly imagine that the EU was a conspiracy to deprive nation states of their primacy and their people of their power. But that's exactly what the EU is - and this isn't conspiracy theory, this is conspiracy fact.
Had the very charming and clever and generally delightful - but not in this case - Aaronovitch properly digested the best, most comprehensive account ever written on the EU - The Great Deception by Christopher Booker and Richard North - he would have understood this quite clearly.
Here is how I summarised their arguments in How To Be Right. (Skip as you please because the extract's quite long and very depressing, all the more so for being so true: it's the only bit in the book I couldn't manage to make funny because there's nothing funny about the EU). Here goes:
"Whatever you know about the European Union, it’s worse than you think. One reason for our surprising ignorance on so important an issue is that we find it so ineffably boring that no one, apart from those involved in the furtherance of the project, can be bothered to read the small print. Mainly, though, it’s because secrecy, disinformation and mendacity have been built into the project from the very start.
"The key thing to understand about the EU is that was it always meant to be an all-embracing political union never just an economic one. But what its inventors – notably, the former cognac salesman Jean Monnet –realised early on was that no rational electorate would allow its country’s sovereignty to be abandoned for the sake of some pie-in-the-sky pan-European ideal. The whole process of ever-deeper integration, they realised, would have to be conducted by stealth. (Or as project insiders knowingly call it “engrenage”- which means “gearing” ie ratcheting up little by little).
"For many years Britain resisted this process. But in the bout of self-doubt which followed the Suez Crisis, the government of a declining, post-Imperial Britain looked towards the Continent, saw what it imagined to be the world’s new economic powerhouse, and panicked itself into deciding that it must join this mighty trading group at no matter what cost.
"In order to do so it had to lie to its people. As early as Harold Macmillan, Britain’s political leaders were perfectly well aware that this was far more than just a trading bloc, that it was intended to be a supranational organisation which would relieve national governments of much of their powers. But to admit as much, they knew, would never wash with a people as proudly independent as the British. So, over the years, European integration has always been sold by successive British governments to their electorates as an economic issue, never as a political one.
"Rarely in the field of political duplicity has a British prime minister lied to his country more blatantly than when Edward Heath told television viewers in January 1973:'There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.'
"Since 1970 when Heath elbowed Britain into the Common Market with no democratic mandate (the subject had barely been mentioned in his general election campaign), all the things he promised would not happen have happened. The key political decisions governing almost every aspect of our lives – from how much we’re paid to how we police our borders to what is and isn’t safe for us to eat to the way we take our measurements to how we dispose of our rubbish – now stem from faceless bureaucrats in Brussels, and not from our democratically elected representatives in Westminster.
"Membership of the European Union has changed Britain immeasurably – and unremittingly for the worst. We have been forced to destroy our fishing industry (and then watch, helplessly, as the seas round our shores, once the richest fishing waters in the world, are devastated by Spanish, French, Dutch and Belgian trawlers). We have signed up to crazy directives which have destroyed our abattoir industry, hamstrung our chemical industry, and blighted our landscape with wind turbines. We on the verge of losing our right to drink out of pint glasses and even to decide how we defend ourselves. It has cost us more money (in taxes and bureaucracy) and made us less free.
"In our hearts we know this. So how is it that Europe continues to grow inexorably against the objections of so many of its constituent peoples? Because this, like the lying about its objectives, was always part of the plan. The labyrinthine complexity of the European apparatus – the Commission, the Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the Court of Justice – was designed simultaneously to sow confusion and avoid accountability; to enable the EU to enlarge itself regardless of how many “No” votes its constitution was awarded in local referendums.
"What’s extraordinary in an age of conspiracy theories is that the greatest modern conspiracy of them all – and one that happens to be true to boot – has been so pointedly ignored by so many for so long. It’s significant that the only serious and thorough investigation there has ever been on the subject – The Great Deception by Christopher Booker and Richard North (Continuum) – went unreviewed in every national newspaper.
"The European Union has been the single greatest political disaster since the Second World War. This is rather a large and terrifying mistake for anyone to admit to having made. Perhaps too large. No wonder we’re all so determined to avoid the issue. If only we can all ignore it for long enough, seems to be the thinking, maybe it will magically disappear. It won’t."
Got that Aaronovitch, you wretched elf-n-safety-loving, statist ex-communist, you? Good!