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Lee Rotherham: Controversies From Brussels and Closer to Home

Picture 1 Lee Rotherham is author of Controversies: From Brussels and Closer to Home, which has just been published by the EU Referendum Campaign.

Libraries are a dangerous place. I don’t mean that a mis-step can lead to your being pinned under a bookcase for five hours and brained by a bust of Socrates; simply that it’s easy to get distracted from your intended task by a trail of fascinating archives.

It is possible to make a merit of such enjoyable diversions, which explains a short volume that’s now been published through the EU Referendum Campaign. It’s a series of essays looking at some of the more controversial issues surrounding our relationship with Brussels – hence the title, Controversies.

Hopefully there’s something in there for everyone. I delve into the under-explored Georgetown archives of ACUE, the US campaign pushing for a United Europe that was packed full of spooks (retired, serving and yet to be recruited). There’s a review of Churchill’s real views on European integration, including what appears to be a previously lost Churchill speech on the subject. Mirroring the great man, we also look at Ted Heath to ask whether he deserves the bad press he’s received over accession and deception.

In addition to the human angle, there are also a number of more technical issues. How much does the EU actually cost in the light of a variety of private research now in the public domain? Following on from this, we come up with what I believe to be the first ever formula to determine if a particular country benefits from EU membership, so that on reviewing the algebra a future Royal Commission might determine if Britain (or any nation, for that matter) would be better off out. In the context of ongoing debates in Iceland, we also take a fresh look at countries that have chosen the route short of full EU membership and question what countries like Norway and Switzerland get out of their current arrangements.

But Brussels isn’t the only subject with bewitching archives. There’s also room for a quick peek at another topical matter.

A grudge match has recently kicked off between two sets of historians disputing the context of the AV referendum. Some of the historians backing the Yes campaign have proven amusingly bitchy in accusing their opponents of being fly-by-night amateurs who don’t know the subject. Such claims might have carried more weight if their own letter endorsing AV hadn’t been signed by a group including clumps of sports historians, gender studies professors, hygiene historians, postgrads, and an expert in the borderlands of mediaeval China.

Dan Snow has also since waded in on the Yes side criticising what he styled “utter bilge” from his former tutor, Niaill Ferguson. The term might be appropriately nautical given Mr Snow’s TV series on the Royal Navy; it’s more unfortunate given that in the space of his own short letter he confuses AV with the system that’s actually used in the shortlisting of Conservative Party leaders, which is the Exhaustive Ballot. (And to correct an error made elsewhere by Yes campaigners, it’s the system also used in selecting the Speaker – see paragraph 27 here for some surprising background on why it was chosen over AV, on the recommendation of the financial backers of AV.)

Perhaps not all of our educational establishments should be charging students the full whack of £9,000 per annum then. But given the accusations and the errors, an essay looking at the background to three forgotten AV debates in this country’s past (in 1917, 1944 and 1965) may provide some timely and historical insight. There are surely lessons if AV has been repeatedly reviewed and rejected in our past.

That’s just one essay. I hope that, like a trifle, there’s some flavour in there for everybody, and that the reader may find the material as fascinating as the author did when first opening the files – even if at times he may have to do a double take in surprise.


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