When Ian Buruma visited the Referendum party conference, he expected to find latter-day Mosleyites. Instead he met nostalgic, mild-mannered members of the middle classby Ian Buruma / December 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
There are few sights more off-putting, just before lunch, than that of Andrew Roberts’s jowls quivering with glee, as John Aspinall launches into a speech about the sound instincts of English football hooligans. For those not in the know, Andrew Roberts is the young historian with the voluminous jowls and very rightwing opinions. Aspinall, or “Aspers,” is the zoo-keeper, casino owner, and romantic friend of warrior tribes and endangered species. At the Referendum party conference in Brighton, Aspers, who is a parliamentary candidate for the “Refs” in Folkestone, spoke on “that great endangered species,” the Englishman. It was the closest thing during the conference to good old-fashioned fascism.
Aspers delivered his speech in the manner of a seaside comic. Imagine Max Miller doing an imitation of Winston Churchill reading a speech by Oswald Mosley and you might get the picture. “The old tribesmen, the serried ranks of the massed levies, will emerge from every party from every city and every county…”
The argument of the speech was incoherent and vague. The gist of it seemed to be that a combination of American political correctness, bourgeois politicians and monstrous foreign bureaucrats was threatening “the daemon-attendant spirit or local genius of ancient nation states.” The horror of the European Union appears to be that we will all be forced to “interbreed” and be turned into a “raceless continental superstate.” Never mind that American political correctness stresses pluralism and separate ethnic communities, instead of the old melting pot. Never mind that race is hardly what divides the nation states of Europe (or even what defines nationhood). And never mind that nation states are hardly ancient, unless you count China.
What was interesting, and I suppose reassuring, was the cool reception Aspers received from the rank and file. This was not a Mosleyite audience. I saw none of the poujadist thugs, in their ill-fitting pin-striped suits and razor haircuts, that add their bit of nastiness to Tory party conferences. Ordinary Mr and Mrs Ref were mostly middle class, mild-mannered, upstanding, bewildered, good-humoured English subjects of Her Majesty the Queen. Alexander Chancellor wrote in the Guardian that he would feel reassured if the Refs turned out to be crazy. He has reason to be worried. Most Ref candidates are cricket-loving solicitors, accountants, retired army officers and fund managers. And so, it seemed, were most of the people in the hall-apart from a sprinkling of glitzy…