Euroscepticism and the culture of the discipline of the history

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OLIVER J. DADDOW Review of International Studies / Volume 32 / Issue 02 / April 2006, pp 309 ­ 328 DOI: 10.1017/S0260210506007042, Published online: 24 May 2006 Link to this article: How to cite this article: OLIVER J. DADDOW (2006). Euroscepticism and the culture of the discipline of history. Review  of International Studies, 32, pp 309­328 doi:10.1017/S0260210506007042 Request Permissions : Click here Downloaded from, IP address: on 22 Nov 2012



Euroscepticism and the culture of the

discipline of history


Abstract. This article explores the uses of history in contemporary Eurosceptic discourse in Britain. It does so in the knowledge that studying an essentially contested concept such as Euroscepticism poses severe methodological problems, and in the first section I situate my article in the emerging scholarly literature on the subject. Having explained why I limit my research to popular Euroscepticism in the tabloid press, in the second section I critically analyse the rhetorical strategies employed by the Sun and the Daily Mail to garner support for their line on Europe, suggesting that the appeal of their discourse resides in its recourse to national history of the school textbook variety. In the third part I use this finding to argue that the discipline of history has been an unwitting accomplice in making Euroscepticism so popular amongst the British public, press and politicians. This has considerable ramifications both for the theoretical study of Euroscepticism and the political efforts to counter its popularity, and I consider all of these in the conclusion.


And what have they lost? Sovereignty? Rubbish! Are the French a soupçon less French?

Are the Germans a sauerkraut less German? Are the Italians a pizza less Italian?


And neither would Britain be any less British

The whole history of our nation is a history of absorbing, and profiting by, any European influences that blow our way.

The Sun, 4 June 1975.1


As Tony Blair is finding out in his efforts to win the British public over to the idea of a European future, Euroscepticism is big business.2 It is certainly much bigger

business than in 1975 when Harold Wilson’s Labour government held a referendum * The first version of this article was presented to the BISA 29th Annual Conference, University of

Warwick, 21 December 2004. I am grateful to Richard Aldrich, David Allen, Tim Dunne, Christopher Hill, Daniel Keohane and two anonymous readers for RIS for their questions, comments and constructive criticisms.

1 Quoted in Roy Perry, ‘Priorities in Information Policy’, Martyn Bond (ed.), Europe, Parliament and

the Media (London: The Federal Trust for Education and Research, 2003), pp. 63–76, at 68.

Emphasis in original.

2 Larry Elliott, ‘Europe is a battle Blair can’t win’, Guardian Unlimited,http://,9321,1201546,00.html〉. Accessed 23 April 2004. 309


on the UK’s membership of what was then the European Community (EC), the result being a two to one majority in favour of staying in.3 The majority of British

newspapers today express opinions about Europe and the European Union that vary from apathy to outright hostility,4representing a sizeable shift in opinion compared

to 1975 when the press had been ‘wholly in favour of a ‘‘yes’’ vote’,5and a potent

reminder that ‘until the 1970s the British press tended to be pro-Community’.6The

same might be said of the broadcast media, with both the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Independent Television News (ITN) being accused by European Union officials of presenting European Union activity in a negative light.7Even establishment opinion-forming publications such as the Economist that

have traditionally supported the principle of closer British involvement in a supranational EC/EU, are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the future prospects for integration and of Britain being able to play a constructive role in the process.8

The party political context has altered too. Three decades ago there was a broad cross-party consensus in favour of staying in the EC; today, by contrast, the three main British political parties and the Labour government are deeply split over the question of Britain’s closer involvement with the EU.9 Around them, furthermore,

movements such as the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP, founded 1993) and the Referendum Party (founded 1995) have shown themselves adept, in second order elections at least, at gathering public support by campaigning on anti-European tickets that stress the political motives behind deeper integration and the threat these pose to British ‘sovereignty’ and ‘independence’. Blair’s task is made harder by a proliferation of individuals and interest groups campaigning against Europe and the EU using the Internet to spread their message, even if their

3 On the 1975 referendum see David Butler and Uwe W. Kitzinger, The 1975 Referendum (London:

Macmillan, 1976); Robert Jowell and Gerald Hoinville (eds.), Britain into Europe: Public Opinion

and the EEC, 1961–75 (London: Croom Helm, 1976).

4 Peter J. Anderson, ‘A Flag of Convenience?: Discourse and Motivations of the London-Based

Eurosceptic Press’, European Studies, 20 (2004).

5 Brendan Donnelly, ‘The Politics of the Euro’, The Federal Trust for Education and Research,

Conference Report, ‘Britain and the Euro: An Economic or Political Question?’, London School of Economics, 20 July 2004, 5th page.

6 Sean Greenwood, book review, ‘Britain For and Against Europe: British Politics and European

Integration (eds.), D. Baker and D. Seawright’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 36:4 (1998), pp. 603–4, at 603.

7 Anderson, ‘A Flag of Convenience?’, pp. 169–70, gives two anonymous examples. One is that of a

senior EU Commission official who said in 2000 that he rarely agrees to appear on BBC radio because he assumes that the relevant programme item will be given a Eurosceptic slant and that his presence will be used merely to give it a bogus appearance of balance. The other comes in the form of an official from the European Parliament’s audio-visual department telling him that in March 2000 it proved near impossible to persuade ITN to take an interest in the positive aspects of parliamentary business.

8 Charlemagne, ‘A Golden Age?’, The Economist, 28 February 2004, p. 48. On the past

pro-integrationism and pro-Britain-in-Europe stance of The Economist and the Economist Intelligence Unit, see Oliver J. Daddow, Britain and Europe since 1945: Historiographical

Perspectives on Integration (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), pp. 89–95.

9 Andrew Marr counted ‘five or six serious and genuine single currency sceptics’ in the Labour

Cabinet holding office prior to the 2001 general election; ‘The Political Battleground’, in Martin Rosenbaum (ed.), Britain and Europe: The Choices We Face (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 5–13, at 9.


popularity and precise impact on public opinion is difficult to gauge.10 There is,

finally, less of a clear-cut economic case now for Britain moving closer to the continent compared to the 1960s and 1970s when a spate of British declinist literature reflected a growing consensus amongst academics, political commentators, interest groups, non-governmental organisations and policymaking elites that the country was in need of a new direction, one that eventually helped force the hands of successive Conservative and Labour governments into applying for membership of the EC. For example, the Confederation of British Industry is today nowhere near as keen on Britain joining the single currency as it was on it joining the Common Market in the 1960s and 1970s.11

Public opinion pollsters consistently find evidence to support the thesis that Britain is Europe’s reluctant partner. Paul Taggart and Aleks Szczerbiak have studied all of the European Commission’s Eurobarometer polls for 2003 and found that, on average, Britain ranks lowest in terms of national support for European integration, and by quite some distance, the same finding as in 1992.12 Christopher

Andersen and Braden Smith have used figures for 1995 to 2003 to draw the same conclusion, ranking Britain, Sweden, Finland and Denmark as the most sceptical of European member states over this period.13Taking all this into account, scholars are

in broad agreement that, by almost any measurement, ‘what is undoubtedly true is that Britain is one of the most sceptical members of the EU’.14 Measuring public

opinion is one thing, of course, explaining it quite another. From where do these attitudes come? Much turns on the definition of Euroscepticism one adopts and the disciplinary paradigm within which one is working. Political scientists concentrate on several interconnected facets of Euroscepticism under the general heading of the domestic politics of Euroscepticism. They seek to explain how opportunities for parties to express scepticism are opened up at European and national levels, and how parties use Euroscepticism to acquire electoral support. Psephologists and opinion pollsters explore the salience of Europe to voters in local, national and European elections. Media and discourse analysts explore the construction of media discourse

10 The number of such groups flourishing in the global information age may outweigh their impact on

voting behaviour: ‘in the day and age of the Internet ‘‘many’’ is a relative concept. A good number of these Eurosceptic groups appear only to exist as web pages of single individuals. The established organisations, such as the CIB [Campaign for an Independent Britain] refuse to disclose their membership numbers, a likely sign that the British public are not exactly queuing on their doorsteps.’ Menno Spiering, ‘British Euroscepticism’, European Studies, 20 (2004), pp. 127–49, at 134–5.

11 For more on the growth of support for integration in the CBI during the 1960s see Neil Rollings,

‘The Confederation of British Industry and European Integration in the 1960s’, in Oliver J. Daddow (ed.), Harold Wilson and European Integration: Britain’s Second Application to Join the

EEC (London and Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2003), pp. 115–32.

12 Paul Taggart and Aleks Szczerbiak, ‘Supporting the Union? Euroscepticism and Domestic Politics

of European Integration’, paper delivered at Comparative Euroscepticism Workshop, Maxwell EU Center, Maxwell School of Syracuse University, 21–22 May, 2004, p. 23; Stephen Haseler, The

English Tribe: Identity, Nation and Europe (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), p. 144.

13 Christopher Andersen and Braden Smith, ‘Mapping Opposition to European Integration’, paper

delivered at Comparative Euroscepticism Workshop, Maxwell EU Center, Maxwell School of Syracuse University, 21–22 May, 2004, p. 9. They derive four indicators of scepticism from the Eurobarometer questions ‘against integration’: Britain 34.5% compared to EU average 22%; ‘against EU membership’: Britain 23.18% compared to EU average 13.12%; ‘no benefit from membership’: Britain 41.53% compared to EU average 31.82%; ‘relieved if scrapped’: Britain 24.75% compared to EU average 13%.

14 John Curtice, ‘What We Think We Know’, in Martin Rosenbaum (ed.), Britain and Europe: The


on Europe and the relationship between this coverage and public attitudes to the EU. Cultural and social theorists have not devoted sustained attention to the question of Euroscepticism, often tacking it on to investigations of the construction of national identity over the longue durée. Here their work overlaps with, and draws upon, historical ideas about the constitution of individual, local, community, regional, national and transnational identities, associating the development of Euroscepticism with what has gone before in the life of the nation and how the nation as a whole relates to its past.15

This article draws on work across these disciplines to introduce a fresh approach to understanding the phenomenon of Euroscepticism in Britain. It takes its cue in particular from recent work on the lessons of history in the fields of intellectual history and historical theory. Although it is evident that we can and do make of history what we want, relatively few scholars have yet had the inclination to examine how the lessons of history become the lessons of history, especially when compared to the number that have explored the lessons of history themselves.16 A valuable

exception is Mikkel Rasmussen who, in 2003, published an article in Review of

International Studies on how historians and policymakers first constructed and then

learnt from the ‘Munich lesson’ of 1938. He was not so interested in charting the subsequent diplomatic and political uses of that lesson as in how that lesson has

become a lesson; how diplomatic events from Versailles to Munich have come to

constitute the received wisdom in ‘the West’ about peacemaking and security building, even amongst decision-makers who have no direct personal experience of the events that led to those settlements. We are forever trapped, he implies, by the constricting ties of history and the sanctity of the ‘common sense’ lessons we supposedly learn from it.17 I concur with Rasmussen about the need for more

research into the social construction of the past by directing my analysis towards the suffocating weight of history on Britain’s debates about Europe and the EU.

The analysis proceeds in three parts. The first sets the terms of reference for the article by defining the essentially contested concept of Euroscepticism, and by explaining how I deploy the term in this article. Having set the parameters for analysis I examine in the second part the overt and covert ideology at work in the discourse of two leading Eurosceptical newspapers: the Sun and the Daily Mail. Here, I use their reporting on European affairs as case studies with a view to discovering the historical stories that lend weight and credence to their reporting of European matters in Britain. In the third part I examine the interconnectedness between Euroscepticism and British national history. The intimate relationship between state education and nation-building has long been recognised by historians and theorists of national identity alike.18What I want to do is take this literature in new directions

15 Krishan Kumar, The Making of English National Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

2003), gives Euroscepticism a one-line mention three pages from the end.

16 Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for

Decision-Makers (New York: The Free Press, 1986); Will Durant and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968); M. I. Finley, The Use and Abuse of History

(London: Chatto and Windus, 1975); Marc Ferro, The Use and Abuse of History (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984).

17 Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, ‘The History of a Lesson: Versailles, Munich and the Social

Construction of the Past’, Review of International Studies, 29:4 (2003), pp. 499–519.

18 Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (London:

The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975); Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London and New York: Verso, 2003), pp. 197–206.


by arguing that British history, as it was conceived, institutionalised, studied and written in the academy in the nineteenth century, may have been an unwitting accomplice in the rise to prominence of Euroscepticism in the country at large. The article concludes with discussion of the potential impact my analysis has both for the academic study of Euroscepticism and the political efforts by the Blair government to orientate public opinion towards accepting a European future for Britain.

Euroscepticism: an essentially contested concept

It is important when writing about an emotive and politically charged topic such as Euroscepticism to bear in mind the methodological problems it poses researchers, and therefore to be as rigorous as possible about defining this problematic word so as to prevent confusion arising. It is impossible to give a convincing definition of ‘Euroscepticism’ despite its wide usage in contemporary political discourse. The first reason is that the word is used by (and about, often pejoratively) people in various countries and for whatever motive who oppose anything from European integration

per se to the institutional form integration has been taking in the EC and now the EU.

The second reason relates to the numerous other competing terms that have arisen as signifiers of opposition to the twin processes of European integration in general and/or, to steal an invented word from Timothy Garton Ash, things related to ‘EU-rope’ in particular.19As opposition to Europe has grown so has the number of

potential descriptive devices on offer. In a five-page section on British critics of the euro published in 2001, Lord Haskins uses euroscepticism interchangeably with terminology such as ‘europhobes’, ‘ultranationalist europhobics’ and ‘euro critics’.20

‘Euro-agnostic’, ‘Euro-realist’ and ‘Euro-pragmatist’ have all entered popular jargon as both individual politicians and political parties jostle to capture their often ambiguous policies towards European integration in pithy soundbites for popular consumption.

The endeavour by academics to categorise these myriad and usually woolly attitudes towards Europe demonstrates the very real problems a word like Euroscep-tic can bring its user. The best known and most cited is the work by Paul Taggart and Aleks Szczerbiak who identify ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ strains of Euroscepticism, taking Euroscepticism to imply ‘negative evaluations of European integration’.21 Petr

Kopecký and Cas Mudde try an alternative, distinguishing between ‘specific’ and ‘diffuse’ support for integration in the EU on the one hand, and for European

19 Timothy Garton Ash, ‘The Gamble of Engagement’, in Britain and Europe: The Choices, pp. 39–45. 20 Lord Haskins, ‘The Benefits to Business’, in Britain and Europe: The Choices, pp. 49–56, at 51–4.

Stephen Haseler equates ‘eurosceptic’ and ‘europhobic’ in ‘The Case for a Federal Future’, in Ian Taylor, Austin Mitchell, Stephen Haseler and Geoffrey Denton, Federal Britain in a Federal

Europe? (London: The Federal Trust for Education and Research, 2001), pp. 51–96, at 71.

21 Developed in Paul Taggart and Aleks Szczerbiak, ‘Parties, Positions and Europe: Euroscepticism in

the EU Candidate States of Central and Eastern Europe’, Sussex European Institute Working Paper no. 46 (2001),〈〉. First accessed February 2003; Paul Taggart and Aleks Szczerbiak, ‘The Party Politics of Euroscepticism in EU Member and Candidate States’, Sussex European Institute Working Paper no. 51 (2002),

〈〉. First accessed February 2003. See more recently Aleks Szczerbiak and Paul Taggart (eds.), Opposing Europe? The Comparative Party Politics of


integration in general on the other, leading to a 22 matrix on which party positions can be plotted and classified as: Euroenthusiastic, Europragmatistic, Eurosceptic or Euroreject.22 Chris Flood, finally, has developed a six-point spectrum along which

party positions towards the EU can be classified as ‘rejectionist’ through to ‘maximalist’.23It is not the aim of this article to dissect the strengths and weaknesses

of each of the models,24but two points are well worthy of note before we try to pin

down a workable definition to use below. The first is that the Taggart/Szczerbiak ‘hard/soft’ taxonomy holds the field in studies of Euroscepticism. This is probably because, out of the three, it is the only one concerned exclusively with mapping the phenomenon of opposition to Europe whereas the others identify the positive sentiments as well as the negative. It may also be significant that Taggart and Szczerbiak have published their model, and derivatives thereof, more widely and over a longer period than have the other scholars. For example, Flood’s model has yet to be published in journal article or book chapter form and has been disseminated so far only in the form of conference papers.

The second point is that opposition to Europe does not mean the same thing in different countries, nor is it expressed in the same way, making sensitivity to the local and national context of Euroscepticism all-important. One might have thought that in the country that apparently invented the word the problem would not be so acute.25 But Menno Spiering argues that it is a mistake, à la Anthony Forster, to

construe every expression of doubt in Britain about Europe and its institutions, past and present, as a statement of Euroscepticism because ‘it renders the concept almost meaningless’.26Forster, Spiering infers, is interested in opposition to Europe and that

has manifested itself in ways that do not deserve the retrospective label ‘Euroscep-ticism’.27He prefers the Stephen George line that British Euroscepticism has come to

denote a more extreme position ‘which is hostile to British participation in the European Union’ and which hints seriously at the benefits of withdrawal from the EU.28 David Morgan similarly alludes to a radical British connotation. ‘Groups

which are labelled Eurosceptic’, he observes, ‘combine those opposed to any European ‘‘state’’ on a variety of grounds and those who think they see alterna-tives’.29 In the parlance of the political science models introduced above, I believe

Taggart and Szczerbiak would label the British Euroscepticism I concentrate on in

22 Petr Kopecký and Cas Mudde, ‘The Two Sides of Euroscepticism: Party Positions on European

Integration in East Central Europe’, European Union Politics, 3:3 (2002), pp. 297–326.

23 Christopher Flood, ‘Euroscepticism: A Problematic Concept’, paper presented to the University

Association for European Studies 32nd Annual Conference and 7th Research Conference, Queen’s University Belfast, 2–4 September 2002, pp. 3–7.

24 A more detailed analysis of the political science approaches appears in Charles Lees, ‘Four

Dimensions of Party-Based Euroscepticism in the Federal Republic’, paper delivered at Comparative Euroscepticism Workshop, Maxwell EU Center, Maxwell School of Syracuse University, 21–22 May, 2004, pp. 2–4.

25 According to Robert Harmsen and Menno Spiering, ‘Introduction: Euroscepticism and the

Evolution of European Political Debate, European Studies, 20 (2004), pp. 13–35, at 15, the word entered the British journalistic lexicon via an article in The Times in 1986.

26 Anthony Forster, Euroscepticism in Contemporary British Politics: Opposition to Europe in the

British Conservative and Labour Parties since 1945 (London: Routledge, 2002).

27 Spiering, ‘British Euroscepticism’, p. 128. 28 Ibid., pp. 128–9.

29 David Morgan, ‘Media Coverage of the European Union’, in Martyn Bond (ed.), Europe,

Parliament and the Media (London: The Federal Trust for Education and Research, 2003),

pp. 35–54, at 36. In the same collection see Dougall, p. 57, who links Euroscepticism to the anti-Maastricht element on the right of the Conservative Party.


this article ‘hard Euroscepticism’; Kopecký and Mudde may call it ‘Eurorejectionist’; Flood would probably opt for ‘rejectionist’ or ‘revisionist’, it being at the former, extremer end of his spectrum.

Hidden wiring: the historical images behind the discourse

Eurosceptics in the press consistently use words such as ‘sovereignty’,30

‘indepen-dence’, ‘superstate’, ‘subsidiarity’, ‘federalism’,31 ‘bureaucrats’ (increasingly

‘Euro-crats’) and phrases such as ‘keep the pound’ in their discourse on why Britain should remain aloof from further integration, or withdraw from the EU altogether.32Like all

words and phrases they are freighted with connotations and loaded with meanings gathered from various sources. They generate their currency for Eurosceptics by being associated with popular tales concerning a variety of themes: British ‘di ffer-ence’ from the continent; suspicion of the motives of continental leaders and almost unquestioning support for Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the US.33 The word

‘Brussels’, when woven into Eurosceptic discourse, signifies much more than the geographical location of the Belgian capital city, denoting instead ‘an easy and remote scapegoat for any mishap, leading to more and more such stories and a jaundiced opinion of EU rules and regulations’;34 in other words, the European

Commission.35This is just one example of the general problem area I am interested

in: how the words and phrases of British Eurosceptic discourse have become meaningful, literally full of meaning, through their being woven together in narratives that tell of ‘the myth of a still largely autonomous great (if not world) power constantly threatened by illegitimate intrusion from ‘‘Brussels’’ which has become part of the political (folk) culture of British EU membership and its reporting in the tabloid press’.36

It has proved impossible here to incorporate my research findings on all the newspapers whose discourses on Europe I have examined, and I limit myself instead to showcasing the ‘vigorous and concentrated form’ of Euroscepticism found in the

Sun and the Daily Mail,37the brand of nationalist-based Eurosceptic discourse found

30 On its multiple connotations in the British debates about Europe see Haseler, The English Tribe,

pp. 92–7.

31 For elaboration of the many connotations of ‘federalism’, see Taylor, Mitchell, Haseler and

Denton, Federal Britain, pp. 16–17, 32–3, 55–6, 63, 99–103, 112–13 and 122.

32 For instance John Redwood, ‘Sovereignty and Democracy’, and William Hague, ‘Harmonisation

or Flexibility’, both in Britain and Europe: The Choices, pp. 87–95 and 287–92 respectively. On disputes over the meaning of ‘sovereignty’ within the Conservative Party see Philip Lynch, ‘Nationhood and Identity in Conservative Politics’, in Mark Garnett and Philip Lynch (eds.), The

Conservatives in Crisis (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), pp. 182–97, at 183.

33 Andrew Gamble and Gavin Kelly, ‘Britain and EMU’, in Kenneth Dyson (ed.), European States

and the Euro (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 97–119, at 108–13.

34 Perry, ‘Priorities in Information Policy’, p. 65.

35 Norbert Schweiger, ‘The Council, the Media and the Public at Large’, in Martyn Bond (ed.),

Europe, Parliament and the Media (London: The Federal Trust for Education and Research, 2003),

pp. 133–55, at 135.

36 Wolfram Kaiser, ‘ ‘‘What Alternative is Open to Us?’’: Britain’, in Wolfram Kaiser and Jürgen

Elvert (eds.), European Union Enlargement: A Comparative History (New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 2004), pp. 9–30, at 25.


on the right of the Conservative Party, especially since 1997.38It is worth dwelling for

a moment on how the methodology I have employed has shaped my findings, the problem of selection bias being particularly pertinent in this regard.39 Despite the

Review of International Studies generously giving its contributors the luxury of nearly

twice the amount of words to play with compared to other journals in political science and international relations, the most glaring point is that I have not had the space here to include analysis of the discourse of other Eurosceptical newspapers such as The Times (Rupert Murdoch’s broadsheet stablemate to the Sun), the Daily

Telegraph, and the Daily Express, which tends to be schizophrenic on the subject.

Nor have I been able to include analysis of the various Eurosceptical comments on offer in supposedly Europhile newspapers such as the Guardian. The three main reasons for setting these boundaries all pertain to the goal of the article. First of all, I have not set out to write a history of Eurosceptic discourse as it has unfolded in all British newspapers, although I believe such a study would be most illuminating, if not the definitive word on the subject.40 Secondly, I am not seeking to explain why

newspapers take the line they do on Europe, à la Anderson and Weymouth, but to understand what kind of history is being used to inform their reporting. For me the question is not ‘why Euroscepticism in the press?’ but ‘why this brand of history?’ and this does not require the same attention to newspapers across the board. Finally, I do not believe that including analysis of broadsheet commentaries on Europe would critically alter the argument I pursue in the article. While they are certainly compelling and illuminating discourses, often incorporating subtler mechanisms of persuasion and less vivid figures of speech, their framing techniques (British national history rather than European history) are broadly the same as those used by writers in the Sun and the Daily Mail. I would therefore direct readers interested in the broadsheets to studies that have had the time to examine their discourses of Euroscepticism in more depth than I can manage here.41

So, what is the brand of Euroscepticism on offer in the Sun and the Daily Mail? It is Euroscepticism expressed in terms of a nationalism that paints Europe, Europeans, the EU and proposed developments in European integration as hostile to the future interests of the country.42At the heart of this scepticism lies the judgement

that Britain is not European ‘in its history and culture’; rather it should continue, as

38 Philip Lynch, ‘The Conservatives and Europe, 1997–2001’, in Garnett and Lynch (eds.), The

Conservatives in Crisis, pp. 146–63, at 155. Haseler, The English Tribe, p. 142, observes that in 1994,

Norman Lamont, Chancellor of the Exchequer under John Major, became the first senior politician in Britain to raise the possibility of Britain withdrawing from the EU. His bitter experiences with the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in the 1990s are detailed in his memoirs, In Office (London: Little, Brown, 1999).

39 Ian Lustick, ‘History, Historiography, and Political Science: Multiple Historical Records and the

Problem of Selection Bias’, American Political Science Review, 90:3 (1996), pp. 605–18.

40 Patrick Finney eloquently restates the case against the possibility of definitive histories in

‘Introduction: What is International History?’, in Patrick Finney (ed.), International History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp. 1–35.

41 Daddow, Britain and Europe, pp. 2–5; Peter J. Anderson and Anthony Weymouth, Insulting the

Public?: The British Press and the European Union (London and New York: Addison Wesley

Longman, 1999), pp. 65–76.

42 The question of which ‘nationalism’ Eurosceptics are defending – English or British – is certainly

interesting but not one I have the time to pursue in this article. It is important to be aware, however, that the defence of ‘British’ interests is routinely couched in terms of ‘English’ identity politics. Kumar, The Making of English National Identity and, on Conservative Party handling of the issue, Lynch, ‘Nationhood and Identity’, p. 186. The problems of theorising ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ are taken up in Anderson, Imagined Communities, pp. 3–5.


it has in the past, to look across the Atlantic for its security and prosperity.43 By

linking Euroscepticism to nationalist discourse I hope to show that popular Euroscepticism in Britain is at the hardest end of Taggart and Szczerbiak’s hard Euroscepticism. Otherwise, we have to include as Eurosceptics writers such as the economist James Forder who professes enthusiasm for the European project as a whole but who is opposed to British membership of the euro on economic grounds. If the euro causes economic instability and unemployment it will, he contends, lead to acrimony, resentment and hostility to integrationist policies in other areas. ‘That is why, from the beginning of this debate, I have felt that the economics of the euro should make those who hope for political integration and for Britain to be at the heart of Europe its firmest and most determined opponents. I count myself among them.’44Forder’s argument is in line with that of Timothy Garton Ash who is equally

sympathetic to the European cause but who has come to the conclusion that it may be best for Britain to leave the EU so as not to let its laggardly attitude hold back the integration process any further.45 Both Forder and Garton Ash profess a level

of encouragement for political integration that is entirely lacking in popular Euroscepticism and for that reason I would not put them in the same bracket. Popular British Euroscepticism has a radical edge identified by George and others, and does not concern the processes and policy competences of the EU itself. In fact the word Euroscepticism in its popular guise may be considered an oxymoron; that is, it does not really pertain to developments in the EU at all, but to British history, national identity and place in the world.

I now draw upon the work of Peter Anderson and Anthony Weymouth who identify the most prominent Eurosceptic newspapers and establish that there are two types of bias at work on their discourse. The first is overt political or commercial bias, that which sets out to be openly persuasive. The second is covert bias, ‘that which is implied or presumed to be part of the shared ‘‘lifeworld’’ in the media discourse’; the unspoken ideology that allows author to connect with reader.46Covert,

historically-informed bias regularly appears in Sun commentary on European affairs, its reporters telling a simple story about Britain’s European policy. The continent acts out its role of the threatening Other across the Channel with those ‘lesser breeds’,47the French

and the Germans, playing the roles of untrustworthy Machiavellian villains leading its machinations against Britain. Compared to the trustworthy Americans, Anderson finds the Sun depicting the EU as ‘a corrupt and untrustworthy interventionist predator, driven by a Franco–German plot to damage British economic interests, British security and British sovereignty’.48

A succinct illustration of the Sun’s brand of Eurosceptic discourse is an article by Richard Littlejohn, who took up arms against Blair in the wake of the Prime Minister’s Warsaw speech on EU enlargement in May 2003.49His piece, ‘How dare

43 Morgan, ‘Media Coverage’, p. 37. See also Haseler, The English Tribe, pp. 1–2, 29–33 and 55. 44 James Forder, ‘The Economic Costs of Membership’, in Britain and Europe: The Choices, pp. 73–8,

at 73.

45 Guardian, 31 October 2002, p. 21.

46 Anderson, ‘A Flag of Convenience?’, p. 153.

47 Geoffrey Denton, ‘The Federalist Vision’, in Taylor, Mitchell, Haseler and Denton, Federal Britain,

pp. 99–153, at 112.

48 Anderson, ‘A Flag of Convenience?’, p. 154.

49 For the full text of his speech see, accessed 10


Tony Blair call us unpatriotic’, was themed around his perception that Blair had equated ‘anti-Europeanism’ with a lack of pride in nation (it matters not whether this was actually what Blair meant – the point is that Littlejohn read it as such). For Littlejohn this was an affront, a ‘monstrous slander’ to the people Blair represents. ‘I simply don’t understand why anyone goes into politics to destroy their own country and hand it over to foreigners’. In the emotive words of Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell, delivered over forty years ago to describe his opposition to the Common Market and trotted out time and again in support of the Eurosceptic case,50

Littlejohn chastises Blair for hating ‘this country’ and for being ‘hell-bent on destroying 1,000 years of history’, in stark contrast to the patriotism of wanting to ‘defend our borders, pass our own laws and run our own economy’. His fairy-tale description of the non-choice for the British people in a possible referendum on the European Constitution51reads as follows: ‘Certainly, given the option, most British

people would rather live in a free, benign kingdom nominally ruled by a kindly old granny than in a federal superstate run by foreigners, with their tidy minds, armed with their railway timetables and oppressive ‘‘human rights’’ laws’. He even writes history backwards by imagining what Blair might have done in 1939: ‘Presumably [he] would have thought the patriotic thing to do would be to hand over the keys to Hitler’.52

Content analysis of Littlejohn’s polemic shows a high number of references to words, phrases and images associated with hard Euroscepticism in Britain. The number of appearances of each are as follows: ‘Brussels’: one; ‘independent nation’: one; ‘superstate’: one; ‘sovereignty’: two; Germany/Germans: two; France/French: three; ‘foreigners’: three; British monarchy: four; patriotism: ten. The five historical references are of special interest, comprising as they do allusions to the Second World War and Hitler, Gaitskell’s ‘thousand years of British history’, to the ‘disgraceful Grocer [Edward] Heath’ who took Britain into the EEC in 1973, the coronation in 1953 and September 11th, 2001. Littlejohn is ransacking history and playing to his perceived audience, the ‘more than half of us who want to get out of Europe altogether’, by evoking moments of national pride such as World War II and the Coronation to support his case against Blair’s vision for Britain.

Michael Portillo, writing in the Daily Mail two years earlier, brought the same charge against Blair, writing that his European policy showed the premier to have ‘little interest in history’,53 as if seeking a European future for the country is an

unpatriotic betrayal of the past, the significance of which is self-evident.54 It is this

kind of argument that leads Anderson and Weymouth to judge that Daily Mail commentary on European politics is strikingly similar to that found in the Sun. ‘Like the Sun, the Daily Mail’s discourse on the EU was found [in the survey period

50 On Gaitskell’s opposition to the Common Market, and his Empire mentality, see Brian Brivati,

Hugh Gaitskell (London: Richard Cohen Books, 1997), pp. 404–31 and Haseler, The English Tribe,

pp. 53 and 131.

51 This article was written before the results of the 2005 French and Dutch referendums on the

Constitution were known. Clearly, they significantly diminish the chances of there even being a referendum in Britain.

52 Richard Littlejohn, ‘How dare Tony Blair call us unpatriotic’,http://www/

0,,43–2003251106,00.html〉, accessed 10 October 2003.

53 Daily Mail, 31 December 2001, p. 22.

54 For a critique of this view of the ‘unpatriotism’ of being an enthusiast for integration see Charles

Kennedy, ‘An End to Vacillation’: Britain and Europe: The Choices, 293–7, at 293, and Haseler,


2000–2002] to be characterised by a world full of Franco–German plots, threats to Britain’s sovereignty and security by an advancing European superstate, allegedly untrustworthy European partners and a preference for the USA over the EU’. In mediating the EU to its readers, both newspapers ‘freely engaged in omission and misrepresentation’ leaving them ‘poorly served, no matter what their point of view on ‘‘Brussels’’ ’.55 On the whole Anderson finds that withdrawal from the EU has not

been the editorial policy of any of the sceptical newspapers in Britain, but the Daily

Mail does more than air the possibility through articles by individual journalists. This

position was evident in a feverish article by Andrew Alexander that appeared in the

Daily Mail during the European Council meeting in December 2000, one that

reflected the Conservative Party’s objections to the outcome of the Nice meeting. On balance, he argued, the time might be right to withdraw from the EU. ‘The Nice summit is merely serving to underline our incompatibility with the structure and the aims of the Union, with the certainty of more differences to come’. He went on to claim that Britain does not depend on the EU economically, politically or strategi-cally. ‘As a genuinely independent nation we would be entirely at liberty to make our own rules’.56

Three years later the paper was taking the same line. It was delighted with the Chancellor’s verdict on 9 June 2003 that the British economy had not yet passed the Treasury’s five tests for membership of the euro; ‘nothing Gordon Brown said has threatened this proud symbol of Britain’s independence and national wealth. The pound has endured for a millennium, built an empire, and, above all, united our people.’57The newspaper’s pride in the part the pound has played in integrating the

nation and building the Empire is typical of the way in which the British story is told in the Eurosceptic press, and ‘emblematic of a tendency on the part of the press to merge isolationist British pride with a fear that European integration threatens this’.58 Mixing discussion of the incompatibility between British and European

interests with a consistent seam of scare stories about the EU and the euro,59 the

human interest angle beloved of British investigative reporting on how the EU affects ‘our daily lives’,60the Daily Mail and the Sun select a limited set of historical facts

which they organise for their readers into stories with a singularly recognisable plotline, centring on a nation continually ‘at war’ with mainland Europe.

The historical backdrop to both tabloid and broadsheet Euroscepticism is the ‘island story’ every British citizen supposedly knows, one that tells of irredeemable differences between Britain and the continent; one that adapts Shakespeare’s tale of a ‘sceptr’d isle set in a silver sea’ fighting off the pernicious effects of continental

55 Anderson, ‘A Flag of Convenience?’, p. 156. 56 Daily Mail, 9 December 2000, pp. 12–13.

57 ‘Why the pound is quids in’, Daily Mail, 10 June 2003, p. 14.

58 Gertrude Hardt-Mautner, quoted in George Wilkes and Dominic Wring, ‘The British Press and

Integration’, in David Baker and David Seawright (eds.), Britain For and Against Europe: British

Politics and the Question of European Integration (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), pp. 185–205, at


59 In the article on the merits of the pound cited above the Daily Mail informs us that, unlike the

euro, the pound is not bad for your health. ‘According to a study by dermatologists at the University of Zurich, euro coins can trigger skin allergies because they release up to 320 times the amount of nickel allowed under EU safety rules.’.

60 Dougall, ‘British Press Coverage’, p. 55. See also Olivier Basnée, ‘The (Non-) Coverage of the

European Parliament’, in Martyn Bond (ed.), Europe, Parliament and the Media (London: The Federal Trust for Education and Research, 2003), pp. 77–105, at 92.


intrusions into British affairs.61 This is the kind of commonsense history everyone

knows even if they are not historians, the kind parodied in Sellar and Yeatman’s 1066

And All That,62the kind that tells us all we need to know about Europe from Britain’s

martial past; its encounters with the Spanish Armada, at the battle of Trafalgar, with Napoleon at Waterloo,63after the let-down of Munich in 1938 and against Hitler’s

Germany during the Second World War. Aggressive national patriotism of this kind has even been linked directly to the ‘English disease’ of football hooliganism in the 1970s and 1980s. The voiceover at the beginning of a May 2005 documentary about football hooliganism and English national identity made the fascinating point that ‘For many, these aggressive displays of identity would become the football equivalent of Euroscepticism’, while one interviewee, singer/songwriter Billy Bragg, ruefully surmised that ‘I think that these people must get their worldview from the opening credits of ‘‘Dad’s Army’’ . . . It does say something about English culture, I think, that we cling to the past in that sense. We don’t have new and modern ways to express who we think we are.’64(It is interesting to note that the Littlejohn article I referred

to above was supported by a cartoon in which Blair is chastising the characters from ‘Dad’s Army’ for being ‘patriotic’). Indeed, events in 1939–45 are so regularly called to mind in popular British discussions about Europe that one commentator has written ‘Our attitude towards Germany remains at the heart of our fear of Europe’.65

While this might hold for recent decades, Linda Colley reminds us of the crucial part military encounters with the French, ‘the traditional enemy across the Channel’, played in constructing senses of Britishness in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.66The particular sources of angst about the continental Other are, however,

less significant than the fact that continental Europe continues to play that role for the British, and Colley makes the telling point, (ironically?) using Eurosceptical language, that ‘the agonies that some British politicians and voters so plainly experience in coming to terms with Brussels and its dictates show just how rooted the perception of Continental Europe as Other still is’.67

On the evidence presented in this section it seems fair to assert that Europe/EU debates in Britain are, in their popular form, continuously being refracted through the lenses of British national history, and a particular reading of the national story at that. Popular Euroscepticism, ironically, is not so much the expression of an attitude towards developments in the EU as the repetitive articulation of a story that

61 Haseler, The English Tribe, pp. 14–15. Arthur Bryant eulogises Shakespeare in Set in a Silver Sea:

A History of Britain and the British People (London: Book Club Associates edition, 1985).

62 W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, 1066 And All That (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1960). 63 A good example of a linkage often made between the EU and Napoleon’s efforts to dominate the

continent, thwarted by the British at Waterloo, can be found in the Cover story of the Sun, 30 March 2004, continued on p. 2: ‘Waterloon: Blair will surrender to EU on anniversary of battle victory’.

64 The point was repeatedly made in this programme that stereotypical conceptions of history ‘which

seem to come from another era’ were a big factor in causing the English to view their trips to the continent in militaristic terms. BBC Four, ‘Timeshift’ documentary, broadcast 31 May 2005.

65 Haseler, ‘The Case for a Federal Future’, p. 59.

66 Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837, 2nd edn. (New Haven, CT and London: Yale

University Press, 2005), pp. 1, 5, 17, 24–5, 33–6, 78–9, 86–90, 99, 172, 198, 215–17, 240, 250–3, 285–9, 305–8, 310–13, 322, 358 and 368–71 (this quote from p. 312). For a contrasting approach identifying the closeness of Franco-British relations (at the aristocratic level) in the eighteenth century, centring on the European Enlightenment, cultural and intellectual cosmopolitanism and the work of Voltaire, see Newman, The Rise of English Nationalism, pp. 1–18.


sets Britain perpetually against a continental Other. What is missing, critically, is ‘a discourse which tempers historicism with the representation of how the other economies of the other member states, the working of European institutions, and democracy itself within the EU, are faring.’68 How have politicians, the public and

newspaper editors and journalists learnt this particular historical lesson and why do they continue to teach it? And why this story, not another one, identifying Britain’s internationalist past? Gerald Newman suggests we begin our search for answers in the English historiographical tradition in which ‘the delusion’ of Protestant

England’s exceptionalism, uniqueness and separateness from Catholic continental

Europe has came to stand for the British national story.69 In this spirit the next

section explores the culture of the discipline that seems to inform so much contemporary discourse about Europe.

History in Euroscepticism; Euroscepticism in history?

It is intensely difficult to trace with any degree of precision a direct line of descent from Victorian historiography to Eurosceptic discourse in the popular press today. However, it is clear from the above that themes and images from nationalist history in the nineteenth century continue to feature prominently in early twenty-first century discussions about Britain’s role in Europe.70I want to argue in this final section that

in our efforts to explain the lineage of this discourse it is crucial that we examine the part played by history education in shaping national identity construction, and that it will be fruitful to take this research in two complementary directions. First of all we need to consider what I label the ‘overt’ bias towards patriotic/nationalist history in university, public school and state school history syllabi from the nineteenth century onwards. This form of bias has already received attention in the literature on Britishness and Englishness, if not always with Euroscepticism directly in mind.71

Secondly, I suggest we concentrate more than hitherto on the implications of thinking about and doing history the positivist way, about the ideology inherent in the methodological and epistemological foundations of history when it was institu-tionalised as a distinct discipline in the leading universities across Western Europe and North America in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. This ‘covert’ bias is harder to discover and has received relatively little attention in the literature on history and national identity; it is more the province of historical theory. But it is necessary to explore covert bias because of the ‘silent and hidden mechanisms of ideological power in our current social formations’ that, by weighing us down with history, destine us for a future that, arguably, is merely a replication of the now and the past. Perhaps the longevity of nationalist discourse about Europe in Britain is, in

68 Anderson and Weymouth, Insulting the Public?, p. 91. 69 Newman, The Rise of English Nationalism, preface pp. 21–3.

70 ‘As an historian I regard the abandonment of our sovereignty as being as dangerous as it is

needless’, proclaims Count Nicolai Tolstoy, UK Independence Candidate for the Wantage constituency, in his campaign leaflet for the 2005 General Election.

71 On the centricity of the nation-state in early professional historiography, and on the associated

primacy of political and diplomatic history, see Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History, 2nd edn. (London: Granta Books, 2000), pp. 161–4.


fact, a case-study in what Keith Jenkins identifies as the tendency for historically conscious policymaking elites and societies to endlessly repeat what historians tell us has gone before.72

Let us turn firstly to overt bias against things European in British history education, in terms of the thematic content of that education. It was the first generation of professional historians in the nineteenth century that shaped ‘the form in which [the Whig story of British liberty, progress and exceptionalism] entered school textbooks and turned it into a central element of the English tradition’.73It did

so on the back of the new discipline’s claims to be able to teach us something about the present using the facts of the past. History, construed as diplomatic history with all the methodological and epistemological commitments implied by that focus on the nation-state as the unit of analysis,74 was to act as a source of moral lessons to

students and simultaneously as a source of wisdom and practical advice for policymakers;75 ‘a school of statesmanship . . . the school of public feeling and

patriotism’ was how J. R. Seeley put it in his inaugural lecture as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge in 1869.76His call was heeded by his fellow historians,

and in the first third of the twentieth century school textbooks reflected the patriotic and in some cases jingoistic history they produced. Philip Dodd calls the ancient universities ‘custodians of the national culture’ but they were arguably more active than this in propagating national myths, becoming in Eric Hobsbawm’s words the ‘most conscious champions’ of nationalism in the nineteenth century.77 Taking

national trends in historiography more generally, Gerald Newman concurs. ‘More history-writing tends to the perpetuation of national beliefs than to their dissection’; in fact it is an integral part of ‘those very myths which hold nations together.’78

By the early postwar years books that sold in large numbers both popularly and among political elites were taking a vividly patriotic line on Britain’s past. Well known historians such as Arthur Bryant, who went on to campaign for a ‘no’ vote in the 1975 referendum,79and George Macauley Trevelyan penned stories explaining

English exceptionalism with reference to its separation from the continent, ‘a country of unique flexibility and stability, that had only found its true destiny when it turned away from continental Europe’.80A. J. P. Taylor’s wartime aside that ‘What is wrong

72 Keith Jenkins, Refiguring History: New Thoughts on an Old Discipline (London: Routledge, 2003),

pp. 17–18.

73 Kumar, The Making of English National Identity, p. 203.

74 Finney, ‘Introduction’, pp. 5–6. Thus, notes Nigel Gould-Davies, we can argue that much

diplomatic history is ‘underwritten by an implicit Realism’, implying that history was realist before the International Relations Realists were realist. See his ‘Ideology’, in Finney (ed.), International

History, pp. 105–35, at 112.

75 Beverley Southgate, Why Bother with History? (Harlow: Pearson Education, 2000); Georg G.

Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern

Challenge (Hanover and London: Wesleyan University Press, 1997), p. 2.

76 Quoted in Kumar, The Making of English National Identity, p. 219.

77 Quoted in Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 71 and Haseler, The English Tribe, p. 41. On public

and state school education and the spread of Englishness see the latter, pp. 41–5.

78 Newman, The Rise of English Nationalism, p. 51.

79 Forster, Euroscepticism, p. 51. On Bryant’s involvement in the production of and promotion of a

romantic sense of Englishness, see David Matless, Landscape and Englishness (London: Reaktion Books, 1998), pp. 120–1.

80 Anne Deighton, ‘The Past in the Present: British Imperial Memories and European Question’, in

Jan-Werner Müller (ed.), Memory and Power in Post-War Europe: Studies in the Presence of the

Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 100–120, at 103. See also Kumar, The Making of English National Identity, p. 216.


with Germany is that there is too much of it’ found, notes Robert Colls, a new voice amongst Eurosceptics in the 1980s.81 Anne Deighton credits these historians with

creating the intellectual milieu within which postwar opposition to Europe in Britain flourished and took hold of the policymaking establishment,82 its key proponents

having been socialised like the public at large into having what Kaiser calls ‘contempt for continental European political and cultural traditions’ derived from ‘the imagined ‘‘otherness’’ of ‘‘the Europeans’’ and the idea of British singularity’.83 If

Deighton is right to posit a causal connection between British historiography and Euroscepticism (even if we might disagree with the anachronism of calling policy-makers in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s ‘Eurosceptic’), it seems we are on firm ground in tracing a line between Euroscepticism and the tradition of British diplomatic history that has given it its intellectual basis and credibility, not to mention the Whig interpretation of English literature that went with it.84

If celebrating the nation has overtly supported Euroscepticism, it is possible to argue that it has also done so covertly, through the epistemological and methodological foundations the early professional historians bequeathed the discipline. While it is undoubtedly the case, as Richard Evans is at pains to point out, that the discipline today cannot be compared either in terms of its structure, academic paraphernalia and apparatus, or functioning, to the discipline institution-alised by Leopold von Ranke, Seeley and their peers, the early professional historians have had more than a passing influence on professional and public thinking about history. Their ideas continue to influence discussions on the nature of history even in the so-called ‘postmodern’ era and all have prominent places in the fabric of history education and in its public presentation.85 For example, textbooks on

historical methods aimed at school students and undergraduates openly state their preference for the Rankean methodological principles of source criticism and documentary-based evidence gathering over more theoretically inclined approaches to the study of the past, especially ones smacking of continental theory in general and ‘postmodern’ theory in particular.86 Eurosceptic discourse makes powerful

use of these assumptions about historical practice and its results that we take for granted, practices and results riven with a silent conservative ideology. A discipline constructed on this positivist basis has managed to expunge much of the discussion about the epistemology of history to its fringes, leading to an almost total dearth of healthy scepticism within the discipline about the flimsy foundations of historical knowledge, exposed both by statements on the unreflective and uncritical attitude by historians towards the theoretical foundations of their own work and by the all

81 Robert Colls, Identity of England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 147. 82 Deighton, ‘The Past in the Present’, p. 101.

83 Kaiser, ‘ ‘‘What Alternative is Open to Us?’’ ’, p. 11.

84 Stefan Collini, Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850–1930

(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), pp. 342–73.

85 Oliver J. Daddow, ‘The Ideology of Apathy: Historians and Postmodernism’, Rethinking History,

8:3 (September 2004), pp. 417–37.

86 See, for instance, Jeremy Black and Donald M. MacRaild, Studying History, 2nd edn.

(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000) and Martha Howell and Walter Prevenier, From Reliable Sources:

An Introduction to Historical Methods (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 2001).

T. G. Otte restates these classic principles of reconstructionist history in ‘Diplomacy and Decision-Making’, in Finney (ed.), International History, pp. 35–57, at 41–2.


too often vitriolic reactions to theoretically inclined investigations of the historical enterprise.87

Given the logocentrism of history (the assumption that historians are rational individuals on a voyage of discovery) and the concomitant perception that it is a discipline that can produce reliable and empirically testable knowledge about the past, it is little surprise that politicians and media commentators regularly use history in support of their arguments about Europe as if history is a given, something we know, a certainty. The word ‘history’ has in fact come to stand for a body of knowledge we read to get our bearings in life through the representation of the ‘truth’ about what the past was like. In fact the positivist, nationalist history that was produced by, and in turn helped further, this belief is just one way of telling the past, one reading of it, one historiographical representation amongst many, though very little of that uncertainty comes through in the historical telling. The whole point of history done the positivist way is that it sacrifices uncertainty at the altars of continuity and narrative coherence, the need to put everything into a neat story with a beginning, middle and end. ‘Crooked’ stories do not go down well in the discipline, whereas ‘straight’ ones most certainly do.88

The easy transmission of nineteenth century historical ideas around the British political establishment, in its schools and in much public presentation of history presents real problems for the Europeanists who try to prise open passionately held assumptions about Britain’s purportedly unique past. So far they have not been up to the challenge. Their efforts are worth exploring, however, because they reinforce just how hegemonic the Eurosceptical reading of Britain’s past has become. The first tactic has been to attempt to convince the British of their internationalist past. This has been a theme of New Labour’s attempts to modernise Britain’s identity since 1997 ‘by recognising that Britishness is a plural identity that embraces local and national allegiances’ and that as a ‘plural rather than ethnic identity, British culture had been enriched by immigration’.89 Chancellor Gordon Brown took this tack in

1999: ‘In the 1980s a very narrow view of Britishness was popularised by Margaret Thatcher, a Britain built on self-interested individualism, mistrust of foreigners and an unchanging constitution. I believe this was based on a misreading of our past. Our history shows Britain to be outward-looking and open. It is not true that British history is defined by mistrust of foreigners. The past shows Britain to have been internationalist and engaged.’90Liberal Democrat Member of the European

Parlia-ment Nick Clegg follows suit by recommending that Britain begin to accept itself as a ‘European nation from head to toe. That for a large trading nation with a long tradition of international engagement and influence, our standing in the world is entirely dependent upon our standing in Europe.’91 It is commonplace to find

proponents of Britain taking a more active part in the EU to back their arguments by showing the ‘porous’ nature of the British nation, its historical openness in

87 For instance Arthur Marwick, The New Nature of History: Knowledge, Evidence, Language

(Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001); Keith Windschuttle, The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and

Social Theorists are Murdering our Past (New York: The Free Press, 1997).

88 Hans Kellner, Language and Historical Representation: Getting the Story Crooked (London: The

University of Wisconsin Press, 1989).

89 Lynch, ‘Nationhood and Identity’, pp. 185 and 194.

90 In interview with Steve Richards of the New Statesman and Society, quoted in Kumar, The Making

of English National Identity, p. 241.


cultural terms to trends in continental European philosophy, political thought, art and architecture and science and technology.92

Much of the evidence that could be used in support of this story can be discovered in works of cultural history and the invention of British identity, for instance Kumar’s The Making of English National Identity and Colley’s Britons. They trace the continual confusion that has arisen between ‘English’ and ‘British’ and shows how the latter has regularly been used in place of the former, obfuscating any sustained debate about the component parts of a specifically English national identity. More importantly for our purposes here, they knock away the foundations of arguments about England/Britain being isolated from the continent for time immemorial (Gaitskell’s ‘thousand years’) and replace it with a story about the development of English/British identity that, where it is identifiable at all as a distinct construct, is inextricably European. Haseler pointedly remarks that the English came originally from Germany in the fifth century: from Jutland, the ‘Anglen’ in Denmark and Lower Saxony.93For Kumar, ‘In virtually every respect England from the eleventh

to the thirteenth century was a part of Europe, to an even greater extent than it was at the time of Roman Britain’ he writes of the three centuries following the Norman Conquest.94 For Colley, ‘contrary to the received wisdom, the British are not an

insular people in the conventional sense – far from it. For most of their early modern and modern history they have had more contact with more parts of the world than almost any other nation – it is just that this contact has regularly taken the form of aggressive military and commercial enterprise.’95 They systematically show the

Europeanist and internationalist preoccupations of the key figures and great events that star in the supposedly ‘English’ story: literary figures such as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, sovereigns such as Queen Elizabeth I and the Tudors, military leaders such as Lord Nelson, and ‘moments of Englishness’ inspired by such occasions as the Great Exhibition of 1851.96

The second tactic, sporadically used by politicians to undermine the Eurosceptic case, has been to tackle head-on Britain’s recent relations with Europe by publicising the argument that by staying out of European initiatives such as the euro Britain is again ‘missing the European’ bus. The proponents of this interpretation of the past have drawn on developments in British, European and global history since 1945 to tell a new story about Britain and Europe and to inform the public of developments in contemporary history which they do not know as much about, certainly when compared to developments in the more distant past: kings and queens, wars and conquests, Hitler and Stalin and so forth. Blair took this approach in a speech to mark the opening of the European Research Institute at the University of Birmingham. Drawing on postwar developments in European integration he argued that ‘[t]he history of our engagement with Europe is one of opportunities missed in the name of illusions – and Britain suffering as a result’. He went on to chart the

92 Haseler, ‘The Case for a Federal Future’, p. 93. See also Ian Taylor MP, ‘Seen from the

Conservative Camp’, in Taylor, Mitchell, Haseler and Denton, Federal Britain, pp. 11–21, at 18.

93 Haseler, The English Tribe, pp. 9–11.

94 Kumar, The Making of English National Identity, p. 52. 95 Colley, Britons, p. 8; Haseler, The English Tribe, pp. 112–15.

96 Ibid., pp. 57, 117–9, 128–9, 93–103, p. 187, pp. 192–3 respectively. For a reinterpretation of the

bizarre yet widespread reading of the Norman Conquest as a moment in the invention of the English, see Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 201 and Newman, The Rise of English


succession of integrative schemes Britain refused to involve itself with in the 1950s, and London’s gradual but reluctant admission in the 1960s that it needed to be part of the integration process, rather than marginalised from it. He ended with the clarion call that ‘Britain’s future is in Europe’.97 Advocates of federalist modes of

governance in both Britain and the EU read Britain’s past relations with Europe in the same way by telling a story of Britain missing out economically and strategically by not being ‘in’ Europe’s integrative schemes from the beginning.98Blair may not be

a federalist even in its watered-down form, but in telling this alternative story he is using federalist rhetoric that has a long heritage in Britain, albeit one confined to scholarly circles and the margins of news reporting and political debates on the governance of Britain and the EU.99

The problem with this attempt, like the first, is that it too confronts a tradition of British history rooted in the nineteenth century where the Europeans are presented as mendacious and European schemes are portrayed as hostile to British traditions. History appears to have come to stand for reality in many people’s minds, rather than the exercise in literary representation it is, and Europeanists are finding it corre-spondingly difficult to inject a badly needed shot of uncertainty into the stories the British tell themselves about their past as a means of destabilising the historical foundations of Eurosceptic discourse. As we have seen, it is all too easy for proponents of the orthodoxy, such as Portillo and Littlejohn, to accuse those presenting what could be labelled a ‘revisionist’ version of Britain’s national past of being unpatriotic or having an unhealthy disregard for history. As Hugo Young remarks at the start of his book on Britain and Europe since 1945, ‘Tampering with this blessed plot [of the scepter’d isle] was seen for decades as a kind of sacrilege which, even if the sophisticates among the political class could accept it, the people would never tolerate.’100Talking about post-1945 developments simply will not strike

a chord with the British public if one accepts the view that the core themes and pedagogy of British national history inform their understanding of what it is to be British and European. The ‘facts’ of post-1945 British-European history (about the steps in European integration through the 1950s, through the European Coal and Steel Community, the abortive European Defence Community and the European Economic Community) form the backdrop to the ‘missed bus’ discourse but those facts are not widely known in Britain. Even less do they constitute a persuasive alternative to Eurosceptic discourse.

Conclusion: playing ‘the history game’

Three principal conclusions emerge from the preceding analysis. The first two pertain to the academic study of Euroscepticism; the other is policy-oriented. First to the theory. The simplest conclusion I offer is that it is increasingly difficult to talk without

97 First accessed January 2004. 98 Denton, ‘The Federalist Vision’, pp. 151–2.

99 On the federalist heritage of ‘missed opportunities’ discourse about Britain and Europe, notably the

role of the Federal Trust for Education and Research, see Daddow, Britain and Europe, pp. 86–90.

100 Hugo Young, This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair (Basingstoke: