An Interview with Daniel Hannan

Q. I’ve seen your speeches and have heard you presenting facts and sounding the alarms.  However it seems to me Europeans (politicians and citizens alike) just trod along as if the house is not actually on fire.  Is anybody listening to you over there in Europe where it counts?

A. No one is listening at all – except the majority of the electorate. A rift has opened up between politicians and people on the issue of the EU. Almost every time there is a referendum on closer integration, in pretty well any country, people vote ‘No’; yet their parliaments are usually in favour by around 80 per cent. Britain is typical. According to most opinion polls, roughly 60 per cent of voters want to leave the EU, but that position is shared by only 3 per cent of MPs. Why the division? Because politicians make the mistake of believing that, since the Brussels system has been kind to them personally, it must be good for their constituents. As Upton Sinclair once observed:’It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends upon not understanding it’.

Q.  Why do the Eurocrats insist on bailing out Greece?  Do they really think that the Greeks are going to change their view of the world or their behavior simply because some Eurocrat in Frankfurt or Belgium demands they do so? (or the Italians, the Spanish and so forth) or is something else going on here?

A. The priority here is not to bail out Greece, but to bail out the euro. The people in Greece don’t believe that they’re being rescued. They understand perfectly well that the bailout money will go to European bankers and bondholders, but the repayment will come from ordinary Greek taxpayers. No wonder they are protesting. They – and the Irish, and the Portuguese – are being sacrificed in order to keep the euro going.

Q.  What’s the worst that could happen if we simply dissolved the Euro and went back to Francs, Drachmas, Lire, Guilders, and Marks ? – They were more romantic anyway.

A. More romantic and more efficient, since they allowed each country to set its interest rates and exchange rates according to its own needs. There are some technical difficulties in returning to national currencies – people would rush to put their savings in whatever money they thought less likely to devalue – but a partial and orderly unbundling of the euro is clearly a lesser evil than the generational poverty which keeping it going implies.

Q. What’s so good about Socialism?  Why is it that proponents of Socialism refuse to see its inherent problems?

A. Socialism has always struck me as being more about intention than outcome, about showing what a nice person you are rather than affecting real change. The survey that said it all was the one that showed that people who wear awareness ribbons and wristbands are less likely to give to charity than people who don’t. There’s always been an element of that in socialism. ‘Whaddaya mean, why don’t I give to charity? I’m already calling for higher taxes!’

Q.  Two of the best things to come out of the ascent (and failure) of Barack Obama is that more and more Americans are seeing (many for the first time) what it really means to have a man like this as President and many are now revisiting the question of exactly what is government supposed to do and what is it not supposed to do.  It reminds me a little of what happened in Spain with the Socialist Jose Luis Zapatero and his Socialists getting hammered in elections.  Is this a sign of hope for all of us?  Are the voters of the world finally realizing that Socialism simply doesn’t work or are we doomed to fight this charade forever?

A. I’m afraid it’s cyclical. Right-of-Centre governments generally win office when the other lot have left the treasury empty. They then patiently rebuild the nation’s credit, whereupon the electorate says: ‘Great – crisis over. Let’s have those nice, caring Lefties back again’.

Q.  Speaking of Obama, in 2008 Barack Obama won the American Presidency with millions of followers thinking he would deliver utopia.  Europeans swooned over him even thinking America had finally come to its senses and placed a “reasonable” man into the White House.   Not that is matters at all in our elections, but out of curiosity how do you think Europeans see Obama today now that he’s actually been in the White House for almost three years?

A. All American presidents end up being unpopular with the European Left. The same charges are thrown at Obama that were thrown at all his predecessors: the US is still in Afghanistan, Guantanamo is still open, the climate change treaties still unratified etc etc. The truth is that no country wins popularity by emulating its critics. You win respect by outperforming them. Or, at least, you did until your present leaders decided to spend, tax and borrow the US to ruin.

Q.  An England question.  England used to be a polite, mannered place with proud people.  Is it just my impression or does England seem rougher, more cynical, more tabloid.  What has changed in British culture over the past 25 years?

A. We’ve never been as polite as Americans think. We’re an earthy, violent, Hogarthian people, whose manners are simply a way of keeping our native bellicosity in check. One thing that has changed, though, is the expansion of welfare dependency. It has made us less independent, more whiney, less responsible. I hope, though, that that’s a remediable problem, and the current government is doing some useful things to free people from the squalor of reliance on benefits.

Q.  What open advice would you offer to American voters that think the European model of social welfare is the way to go?

A. It’s fine in the short term: long vacations, maternity and paternity leave, generous welfare entitlements. What’s not to like? The trouble is that, after a couple of decades, the money runs out. That’s the point we’ve reached now. In 1974, Western Europe accounted for 36 per cent of the world’s GDP. Today it’s 25 per cent. In 2020 it’ll be 15 per cent.

Q.  It seems to me Europe is cannibalizing itself.  With birthrates across Europe in decline, what kind of Europe are we looking at one or two generations from now?

A. We face a choice between massive depopulation and massive immigration. The former option needn’t be as calamitous as people think. Yes, the ratio of pensioners to working people will become harder to manage, but it’s much easier for a 70-year-old to carry on sitting in front of a computer screen than it was a hundred years ago for a 70-year-old to carry on mining coal. And, once that demographic bulge has passed, I can see advantages in Europe drifting back to the population level it enjoyed in the early twentieth century. My own constituency in South East England has become very crowded. Property prices are ridiculously high, people are having to commute for longer and longer, there is massive demand for schools and hospitals, the green spaces are disappearing under concrete. I could live with a slight easing of the population pressure!

Thank you Mr. Hannan for taking the time to sit for the interview.  Poignant comments and please keep pushing.

Daniel Hannan is a writer and journalist, and has been Conservative Member of European Parliment for South East England since 1999. He speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes that the European Union is making its constituent nations poorer, less democratic and less free.  His latest book is “The New Road to Serfdom – A Letter of Warning to America


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