Patten and the EU

by Maria on August 5, 2009

Speaking of how the world needs many more assertive humanists to counter the seemingly irresistible forces of wingnuts and indifference, Chris Patten’s name is in the ring for Europe’s first proper foreign minister. The FT reports that Lord Patten is ‘not campaigning for the job, but would be very positive about it if approached’. Patten would do a superb job.

Patten’s thankless work on policing in Northern Ireland brought about a huge leap forward and must have required no small physical courage on his part. His stint as the last governor of Hong Kong got valuable concessions from the Chinese that someone more worried about their ego and reputation couldn’t have delivered. And Patten’s and Javier Solana’s outwardly amicable and respectful managing of their conflicting EU foreign policy roles in the early 2000’s is a credit to both. Patten is uniquely qualified to be the face (and the brains) of Europe’s foreign policy.

There are other good reasons, too. The FT points out David Cameron’s likely discomfort with a fellow Tory being in such a prominent EU role. Also, putting Patten in as Number 2 may make it all that much easier to refuse Tony Blair the top job. And Patten has proven he can actually do all the deal-making and consensus-building the job requires (even more reason why the member states should think of Patten for President of the union, not least to preserve their own sovereignty).

But here’s my reason. Sometimes the good guys should win. I want someone in the foreign policy job whose judgment, experience and, above all, integrity I respect. Someone who may disappoint in the particulars, but who is sound on the fundamentals. In both organizational and political life, I don’t want to believe that only the cynics and brown-nosers, the bullies and yes-men will come out on top. Patten is living proof that successful leaders can be deeply moral and highly effective. That’s something we can all aspire to.

And think about the book he would write afterward…

Full disclosure: I’ve met Lord Patten a few times at the 21st Century Trust, an organisation of which I’m a fellow and he is the Chair.



Hidari 08.05.09 at 5:17 pm


Anyone But Blair


bert 08.05.09 at 6:21 pm

Thanks for the heads up, Maria.
Like you I like the idea. What’s more I think it’s got a very good chance of happening.
I can see him pulling in support from across Europe, since he not only gives an answer to the Blair problem, he also provides a reasonable response to the Cameron problem too.

The recent Tory defection from the EPP has woken up a lot of people to the fact that within the next 12 months Britain will have a government whose centre of gravity is heavily eurosceptic. It’s an open question how pragmatic they will turn out to be at the top level once in power. Some have chosen to believe that Cameron is an authentic nationalist ideologue. I don’t buy it myself, and everything he has done tallies with him gutlessly buying himself the short-term acquiescence of his party’s dimwitted dominant faction. When the europhobes’ long-term project moves into high gear, using the Lisbon Treaty or failing that some other pretext to create a crisis for the Cameron government, and attempting to use the crisis to change the terms of the British engagement with Europe, we will see how he responds.

Remember that in 1992, when results came through showing that Patten had lost Bath, a gaggle of chinless pinheads at Conservative Central Office bleated “Tory gain! Tory gain!” Remember what that same faction then inflicted on party, country and continent. By acting now to recruit Patten, the forces of sanity can strengthen the bench for the side of the angels. It certainly beats the previous non-plan of hoping for miracles from Ken Clarke.


ejh 08.05.09 at 7:08 pm

By my generation he’s probably best remembered for being in charge of the introduction of the poll tax. This would make it hard for me to write such a gushing piece as the opening post. The fourth paragraph especially.


bert 08.05.09 at 8:09 pm

Maria’s Irish. As far as she’s concerned, Chris Patten can fund local government with whatever halfarsed tax he likes. Just as she won’t lose any sleep over his role in the tax-cutting populism of the 1992 national election campaign. What matters is that right now he’s a pro-European, socially liberal, fiscally centrist Tory heavyweight. And they’re as rare as hens’ teeth.

One more thought. Patten used to have the handicap for a Tory of being Catholic. After wondering for a moment how this would affect the European job fight, I remembered that Blair is now Catholic too.
From a British perspective, that’s unusual. Not sure of its significance, if any. But definitely unusual.


Chris Williams 08.06.09 at 6:54 am

In 1992, I had a sudden moment of compassion for Patten. The poor sod was on Newsnight about four days before the election, defending Major’s record. He looked awful. Despite usually hating Tories (except those that I know, and Peter Bottomley) I was so anxious for his health that I got hold of the number for Smith Square from Directory Enquiries (Ah! remember them?) and left a message which ran something like “Tell Patten to get some sleep. It’s not worth it.”


Maria 08.06.09 at 7:42 am

Hi ejh, fair enough, it is a bit gushy around parA 4: probAbly speaks more tomy current feelings about organisational life than to Patten’s virtue. Any more thoughts on his polltAx history?


Thom Brooks 08.06.09 at 8:45 am

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Patten on several occasions, as he has been Newcastle University’s Chancellor until this year. I think he would do a superb job and I hope he gets the post.


Tim Worstall 08.06.09 at 10:27 am

Of course, I’m horribly biased, as an ex-constituent, a member of UKIP and as someone who has met him on occasion. Can’t stand the man for some combination of the three reasons.

I do think it’s slightly odd though to describe a practising Catholic as a humanist though. Looking the word up it seems that humanism implies a rejection of divine authority.


Alan Peakall 08.06.09 at 12:23 pm

If I recall correctly, Patten, unlike William Waldegrade, Lord Rothschild and Michael Howard, was not a true believer in the Poll Tax. When he was appointed Environment Secretary in July 1989, the tax was already in operation in Scotland and scheduled to start in England and Wales in March 1990. Of course, he is vulnerable to the criticism that he accepted a promotion which involved signing up to a policy on which he had reservations, but I do not see why he should be judged either more or less harshly on that count than Norman Lamont when he faced the same dilemma on ERM membership/parity sixteen months later.


James Conran 08.06.09 at 12:29 pm

Tim I suggest you take a look at the latest papal encyclical and search for the words “humanism” and “humanist”.


bert 08.06.09 at 8:13 pm

Re #8, Q.E.D.


french derek 08.07.09 at 4:39 pm

Patten has shone everywhere outside the UK but his comment on Blair’s “suspected” capacity for telling lies (a mainly-UK issue) is also a strong selling point. His comment was something like “Tony’s problem is that he actually believes them when he tells them”.

A truth that both sells the man himself as much as it should (but doesn’t seem to) destroy the one he criticizes. ‘m with Hidari. NB I’m also another sort of ABB – Anyone But Barroso, but that’s another story.

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