We all knew he was Mr Spock-like in his emotion-free weirdness, but today John Redwood is being unfavourably compared with both the Kray twins and Hugo Chavez. This is after his attempt to threaten pro-European business with reprisals if they dare to speak in favour of remaining in the EU.
At a fringe meeting of the Tory party conference last night he came out with this warning for Europhile businesses who dare to take part in the debate: ‘We will make life difficult for them by making sure that their customers, their employees and their shareholders who disagree with them – and there will be a lot who disagree with them – will be expressing their views very forcefully and will be destabilising their corporate governance.’
He then added helpfully that executives could be fired for their ‘foolish’ pro-european public statements. ‘It will be deeply disruptive to their businesses, and maybe even to their own tenure of their jobs, if a chief executive with a handful of shares thinks he can put the voice of a multinational corporation behind a highly intense political argument in one country in which they operate.’
Strewth, as they probably don’t say in Redwood’s leafy constituency of Wokingham, where leather will forever sound on willow, the beer will always be warm and the nightmare of a Romanian moving in next door will remain just that. Such gentle persuasion reminds one of Norman Tebbit’s Spitting Image puppet who carried a bicycle chain to keep cabinet order on behalf of his mistress. (Never mind the obvious dangers of implying that multinationals operate at a level above national debate).
Redwood, of course, sounds like the SNP’s Jim Sillars during the Scottish referendum campaign who threatened a ‘day of reckoning’ or delayed Gorbals Kiss to those businesses who dare to cross him and Farage. And look where that got Sillars and his separatist cause.
I’m filled with foreboding about a post-election EU referendum. The prospect of Scotland going its own way was bad enough, but potential EU-departure will cause mayhem. It will prove a major paralysing distraction when we need to be concentrating on far more important things.
It’s a thoroughly bad idea, but the Eurosceptics will have their showdown. It has to be got out of the way once and for all (although one fears that, as in the case of the Scottish referendum, the ‘end’ would really be a beginning). So, what of the alternative of staying in and making the best of it? That appears an uphill task. We’re currently so detached from Brussels that our influence level is pitiful. They have given up on us as the rowdy and uncontrollable neighbour who cannot keep his house in order and pisses over the fence once in while.
The degree to which we are going to be able to influence much in reforming Europe is not great. The current government in London is regarded as a wilful pain in the neck by our neighbours, and, although our exit would deal a huge, maybe even terminal, blow to the European project they appear to be willing to call our bluff. Any hope of us getting together with some sensible Poles and clear-thinking Scandinavians appears remote which is a dreadful shame.
For those from the UK who seek to stay in and urge reform, the best hope is that the intolerable strains put on Euro member countries by the strictures of the joint currency will force action without the UK having to do anything except watch the death throes of a doomed project. And, talking of death throes, from within our own borders we have the prospect of the Tories clawing themselves apart over Europe - a violent itch they have been unable to scratch for the last 40 years.
If Italy blows up under the strain of Berlin-inspired austerity who knows what might follow? But somehow Italy never does blow up. To everyone’s amazement they struggle though, fudging, ducking and diving and impotent to do anything about the fact that their economy is the same size as it was over a decade ago and 44% of Italian 15-24 year olds are unemployed.
Not that John Redwood gives a fig about that. Indeed, he’d block those youthful Romans and Milanese coming over here with all their Latin fecklessness and stealing all our jobs