The House of Lords European Union Committee is chaired by Lord Tugendhat. I don’t know anything about the man, and it may well be that his is a noble title going back to the Battle of Hastings, but I think most people will agree it’s one hell of a funny name.
Then there’s Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party. Nothing funny about the name, unless one’s an Englishman and a snob; but even a quick glance at his photograph in the papers will call to mind the irrepressible Mr. Bean, comic protagonist of the famous British TV series with Rowan Atkinson in the title role.
And yet – and yet. I remember how some years ago, when a Greek cruise liner went belly up in the Mediterranean, its captain and crew promptly abandoning ship in the few lifeboats that were sound, an Englishman took charge of the rescue and, in the end, saved the lives of everybody on board. The Englishman, moreover, was no regular passenger. He had been hired by the company in the capacity of clown, complete with sad eyes and a red plastic nose, and was there providing lunchtime entertainment on deck to the children of regular passengers.
A real tear-jerker, that one. Well, last week Lord Tugendhat’s committee published a report entitled The EU and Russia: Before and Beyond the Crisis in Ukraine. The key words, as highlighted in an analysis of the report in the leftish New Statesman, are “sleepwalking” and “misreading.” These describe, respectively, the general attitude of the West to foreign policy making and, more specifically, its interpretation of Russia’s intentions and ambitions. “The lack of robust analytical capacity, in both the UK and the EU,” writes Lord Tugendhat, has “effectively led to a catastrophic misreading.”
The publication of the report coincided neatly with a statement from Britain’s military to the effect that it “could not cope” with any strategic challenge to the nation’s sovereignty “because our defences had been decimated.” Said Air Commodore Andrew Lambert: “The modern generation of politicians has grown up in absolute security. They’ve never felt a threat to their existence. They’ve taken peace for granted and decimated the Armed Forces. Let’s hope we don’t pay the price.”
By contrast, when, as also happened last week, Russian bombers “streaked along the fringes of UK airspace,” as the Daily Mail put it – though a witness had seen one flying over Cornwall – Britain’s prime minister “defiantly dismissed the incident, saying the Russians ‘are trying to make some sort of a point, and I don’t think we should dignify it with too much of a response.” He’d be hard-pressed to dignify it with a response, of course, as the number of British fighter squadrons has dwindled, from a barely effective 26 in recent memory, to just seven in 2015. And Britain, mind you, is EU’s biggest military spender.
What has Nigel Farage got to do with it? Well, whatever the man may look like, at least – unlike David Cameron – he isn’t sleepwalking. In a tragic age, when civilization’s shipwreck is imminent, we may have little choice but to put our fate in the hands of clowns.