Like my good colleague Dan Hannan, I am a great fan of The Lord of the Rings (though I can’t remember huge chunks of it verbatim in quite the way that Dan can). But who could not awed by the power of one One Ring?
One ring to rule them all,
One ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all,
And in the darkness bind them.
It was, as Tolkien puts it, “the treasure of the Enemy, fraught with all his malice; and in it lay a great part of his strength of old”. Sauron the Dark Lord deceived the elves, apparently sharing with them his wisdom and skill in the forging of rings, only to create in secret in the Mountain of Doom the One Ring to enslave them all. Much that Sauron had built and made was dependent on the One Ring, and when it was finally destroyed, all of Sauron’s power, and much that he had made with it, including The Dark Tower of Barad-Dur, collapsed into dust. It was Sauron’s loss of this ring, and its subsequent finding by Bilbo the Hobbit, that forms the basis of Tolkien’s great work.
I can never avoid recalling the One Ring when people tell me that the euro cannot fail, because “there’s too much political capital and political will bound up in it — European leaders will never allow it to fail”. As with Sauron and the One Ring, so with the EU and the euro. The short answer to this is to ask whether any amount of political will can sustain the unsustainable. Economist Roger Bootle put it very graphically when he remarked “No amount of political will can enable you to hit the moon with a pea-shooter”.
As I have frequently argued, I believe we are watching the end-game for the euro. All single currencies and fixed exchange rate mechanisms finally founder under the weight of their own internal inconsistencies (“You can’t buck the markets”), and this one will too. There may be something called a euro in ten years’ time, but it will be a very different beast from today’s euro, and indeed from the vision of Jean Monet and Jacques Delors.
But let’s think beyond the demise of the euro to the implications for the EU as a whole. The euro has a clear parallel with “the One Ring to rule them all”, because in attempting to sustain the single currency, European leaders are calling for central supervision of fiscal policies, European taxes, an EU debt union, and so on. Indeed the central weakness of the euro project was the creation of the currency before the necessary political and fiscal infrastructure was in place to support it — an infrastructure, by the way, which no British eurosceptic could countenance. But just like to One Ring, the euro was a device intended to “rule them all”.
And just as the Dark Lord invested much of his power in the One Ring, so the Eurocrats have invested much of their political capital in the euro. The collapse of the euro will be an event which they will find it difficult to survive. Perhaps, like the tower of Barad-Dur, we will see the glistening pinnacles of the European institutions collapse metaphorically into the dust. Certainly the collapse of Rumpy Pumpy’s £280 million President’s palace, the so-called “EUterus”, would be a consummation devoutly to be wished.
And not just the buildings. Already we are seeing rumours that Steve Hilton and perhaps Oliver Letwin are starting to think about a post-EU era. It’s not just the euro heading for the buffers. We also see EU member-states simply ignoring the Schengen rules when it suits them. We see growing public anger over the EU budget, and the Human Rights Act, and (especially in the East Midlands) over the lost rolling-stock order for Bombardier. I think the mood is rapidly changing.
It is about time for a major political party to get a grip on this new mood, or the public will turn to other parties. It would be enough for the Conservative Party to offer, without conditions, a referendum on EU membership, while guaranteeing to respect the outcome. That would have a huge impact. But without it, I fear we may not top the poll in the 2014 euro-elections.