I wend my way through a sea of pokies, those bastard children of free market capitalism. Pull on a lever and get rich quick. I'm on my way to the so-called “Celebrity Lounge” at City Tattershalls Club to attend a speech by free market capitalism's favourite son, the IPA's guest Daniel Hannan MEP, or ‘Dan Hannon’ as the sign at the door has misnamed him, presumably the result of some Gonski kid whose ability to spell has fallen dramatically backwards over the last ten years.
In Brussels they are also addicted to pulling levers to get rich quick. The seductive levers of “social democracy.” Go on a debt binge, splurge on subsidies, and wallow in the never-ending cascade of taxpayer-funded welfare.
Former President of the Oxford University Conservative Association, adviser to former Tory leader Michael Howard, Spectator columnist and speechwriter for William Hague, Daniel Hannan has been a member of the European Parliament – and thorn in its side – since 1999.
“You have run out of our money!” It was in the lofty chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 24 March 2009 – in the gloomy depths of the financial crisis - that Hannan came to global prominence, as he savaged Britain’s then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, labeling him a Brezhnev-era apparatchik addicted to debt and wasteful public expenditure, concluding “you are the devalued Prime Minister of a devalued government.”
The video clip of the fiery speech spread like, er, wildfire, and so too did Hannan’s reputation. For two days, it was the most viewed clip on the planet and to date has attracted nearly three million sets of youtube eyes. The American TV circuit, blogs, newspaper columns and speaking tours quickly followed.
A brilliant and mesmerizing public speaker – the likes of which we sorely lack in Australia - Daniel Hannan is a passionate believer in “changing peoples’ minds through words.” Tonight, he treats us to his highly entertaining and thought-provoking insights into the failure that is the European Union and the strength of the “Anglosphere.”
It is with “a touch of wistfulness” that he sees in Australia – this is his first visit here – “what might have been had we not handed away our independence in 1973.” Britain’s entry into the Common Market, he declares, “was the biggest calamity of my lifetime.”
“Far from harnessing ourselves to a powerful locomotive we have shackled ourselves to a corpse.” Britain has suffered “a loss of democracy and a loss of wealth.”
“European culture and strength has always sprung from its diversity and competing plurality,” he explains, with a compelling assessment of the rise of Europe five centuries ago, when a bunch of disparate, feuding tribes – through rivalry and competition - overtook the orderly, ponderous Ming Dynasty and Ottoman Empire to lead the world in economic strength and technological innovation. Now the situation has reversed. “The tragedy is that precisely at the point Europe decided to become a monolithic block run by functionaries and bureaucrats, Asia learnt the virtues of diversity and competition.” Western Europe will sorely miss this “age that is coming to a close.”
Joining the Common Market “yanked us out of our natural orbit”, forcing Britain to trade with declining Euro economies rather than to pursue trade with those countries who not only share cultural, linguistic and blood ties, but more importantly, share what Hannan views in almost mystical terms; the Common Law. “The sublime idea that the law exists unwritten outside of government,” is, to Hannan’s mind, the crucial meme that sets anglo-style democracy apart from all other form of governances, particularly Euro technocracy. Almost poetically, he explains how a set of laws, “their provenance lost in the mists of time,” led in the English-speaking world to a unique relationship between governed and governing, unlike that found anywhere else. This “heritage of liberty” has now been lost to Britain, with four out of five of her laws now being formulated not in Westminster but in Brussels.
“The EU is chiefly a way for a lot of people to make a good living,” declares Hannan, the rebel who opposed ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in the European Parliament and consistently attacks its profligacy from within. “Armies of bureaucrats, consultants and contractors” now maintain the EU not for any higher purpose, nor even in any pretense that it is what the people want, but simply to protect their own privileges and positions. It is a damning inditement of public servants run rampant. And futile, because “in the end, the money runs out,” as Margaret Thatcher predicted.
“How the left managed to use the language of compassion to steal their children’s futures and fund their own comfortable lifestyles is a disgrace,” exclaims Hannan, to loud applause.
The villain of the piece is John Maynard Keynes. “The bizarre idea that the way to stimulate an economy is simply to boost demand” is to Hannan largely responsible for the current global mess. “Increase consumption, but not production, and fund the difference with debt? In reality we are debauching generations yet to come to sustain an income we are not prepared to work for.”
Despite being pushed to say that Australia faces the same predicament, Daniel Hannan is optimistic about what he has seen. “This government has inherited an extraordinary legacy and it will take more than a couple of years to stuff it up,” he suggests, clearly unfamiliar with Rudd, Swan and Gillard’s proven ability to do just that. On the carbon tax he is less sanguine. “Economic strength has always been built on cheaper energy. It is simply crazy that with your natural advantages you are voluntarily disadvantaging yourself for no tangible benefit.”
Later on, we go out for dinner with Daniel. On the way, walking through a beautiful Sydney evening, we pass a beggar on Pitt Street, his head bowed down in his indignity and shame, a sign on his lap pleading for funds. In Sydney, you see the occasional tragic individual who has lost all hope. In Europe, you see whole countries.