The anniversaries this month of Waterloo and the signing of Magna Carta should remind us of the benediction of our birth
The anniversaries fall this month of two events that did much to influence not only the fate of England, but that of Western civilisation. Magna Carta in 1215 enshrined the idea of the rule of law; Waterloo in 1815 made possible a century of unprecedented progress and prosperity. For the English-speaking peoples, this is an opportunity to reflect on the benediction of our birth. No other family of nations has made so many converts for Western civilisation, thanks to the ubiquity of the language and the uniqueness of the values which our intellectuals scorn at their peril.
Magna Carta promises to abide by “the law of the land” and declares: “To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice.” Eight hundred years after the charter was solemnly sealed by King John and his subjects, the English common law reigns supreme, as the rest of the world flocks to London to seek justice. The principle of the rule of law, not arbitrary authority, remains the anchor of liberty. It was to defend such principles that Standpoint was established exactly seven years ago.
As our cover image of him as the Duke of Wellington suggests, David Cameron dominates the field; and like the victor of Waterloo he must now do battle on the Continent, both for the sake of Britain and for that of Europe. His remarkable domestic triumph in a gruelling election campaign certainly gives him a mandate to hold an early referendum on British membership. If the EU refuses to entertain serious reforms, the Prime Minister must be prepared to walk away and recommend Brexit to the voters. First, though, he will need to win over public opinion to back a tough negotiating stance. For this, he will need the support of the press which he has neglected in the last five years. He will also need the BBC to desist from Europhile propaganda, as Stephen Glover argues.
Wellington, to be sure, was far more dismissive of public opinion, and openly contemptuous of journalists. “I have never had any concern with newspapers,” he declared in 1827. “I hate the whole tribe of news-writers, and I prefer to suffer from their falsehoods to dirtying my fingers with communications with them.” Mr Cameron knows that he cannot afford to adopt a ducal disdain for Fleet Street, but he has a habit of hugging close a loyal band of brothers, while refusing to acknowledge the existence of those who maintain their independence of government. Apart from Boris Johnson, who now combines his Telegraph column with being Mayor of London, MP for Uxbridge and a member of the political Cabinet, Mr Cameron has just ennobled George Bridges, a former Times leader writer, to join Lord Finkelstein, whose Times column sounds more like his master’s voice than the real thing. There is more to the journalistic tribe than a few Man Fridays to keep Robinson Cameron company. Now that Labour looks as battered as the Old Guard after Waterloo, the fourth estate has temporarily assumed the functions of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition. Might we now see pallid denizens of the Downing Street bunker emerge blinking into the sunlight and — mirabile dictu — treating journalists with respect?
The Prime Minister’s chances of prevailing in the negotiations with Brussels may seem slim. The likes of Jean-Claude Juncker still pour scorn on Britain’s putative demands, especially any limitation of the “free movement of people”. Yet that principle, already creaking under the strain of vast income disparities within the EU, is now in danger of collapse as a tsunami of displaced humanity sweeps across the Mediterranean. As long as Europe is mad enough to spend half of the entire global welfare budget on its own people, it is bound to attract a growing part of the world’s population to its shores. If properly presented, British proposals to control migration and welfare, enforced by a reassertion of national legal sovereignty by a Bill of Rights, could sound to many other Europeans like a return to sanity. That is what Brussels hates: if the British got their way, everyone else would want the same. If Mr Cameron can show that the only grounds the Eurocrats have for rejecting British reforms is the fact that they are British, he will win the argument. They are bluffing and they know it.
Now, armed with a mandate to besiege Brussels, the Prime Minister should press home his advantage without delay. He does not need to show his hand yet. Wellington said: “All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was on the other side of the hill’.” Mr Cameron should sound out Angela Merkel, by far the most powerful Continental leader, decide what she will settle for, and form his strategy accordingly. At Waterloo, as the British line seemed close to breaking point, the Iron Duke remarked: “Hard pounding this, gentlemen; let’s see who will pound longest.” British stamina will be tested as never before by this new campaign to repatriate rights and powers that should never have been given away. The land that gave the world the idea of fair play has nothing to apologise for. We have just celebrated VE Day, while what will surely be one of the last Auschwitz trials took place in Germany: reminders that Europe had to be rescued from its own demons within living memory. No Prime Minister could ask for a nobler cause than to restore to his people the majestic inheritance of Magna Carta.