In Depth

Ryder Cup victory shows what good Europeans we really are

Don’t forget, the European team was formed because UK alone could not amass the talent to beat USA

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So, Europe won the Ryder Cup handsomely and there can have  been few Brits who keep even half an eye on golf who were not swept up in the drama and the satisfaction of the collective triumph.

The victory came 24 hours after the Tory MP for Rochester and Stroud, Mark Reckless, defected to Ukip (in the footsteps of fellow anti-EU former Conservative MP, Douglas Carswell). In the context of increasingly polarised politics, does a sports result – even one as ballyhooed as the Ryder Cup – count for anything?

I argue that it does. We have more in common with those who live on the continent of Europe than we do with our American cousins. Down the centuries we may have fought every significant European power – we have also had our little difficulties with the USA – but we are bound by culture and outlook to a remarkable (and often overlooked) extent.

The EU may be a bureaucratic nightmare, but bureaucracies can be reformed, as, indeed, David Cameron hopes the EU will be. The European ideal is of far greater importance than failings in the continent’s administrative structure, and our part in that ideal faces extinction at the hands of rabidly hostile anti-Europeans like Carswell and Reckless.

Ukip stands for a lightly disguised populism that bodes ill for a country with the humane and decent traditions of the United Kingdom. I have argued here previously that Ukip’s opponents should stand up and be counted, rather than pander to Ukip’s prejudices. 

Reckless highlighted Cameron’s spineless leadership - spineless in the face of Ukip and its threat to Tory seats rather than spineless in seeking EU reform. 

My comments drew - and will again draw - intemperate criticism. Such intemperance is, I’m afraid, a sad sign of the way we may be headed unless we respond in time to the danger of intolerance.

I lived for four years in the US, and from time to time large numbers of European journalists would descend on Washington DC to cover international summits and so on. I had a large number of American friends, but I was always surprised by the comfortable way in which Europeans – often previously unknown to each other – integrated. “Something in the DNA” has become a grossly overworked cliché, but, like many clichés, embodies a truth.

I would find, during interminable waits outside the State Department or the White House for the world leaders to emerge, that Swedes and French, Italians and Spanish, and, yes, even Germans laughed at the same things and saw the idiocy of much on which we reported through a similar lens. The far larger US contingent of reporters didn’t, on the whole, share this camaraderie. 

There is a common ground between European nations – visible on the platform last night after the Ryder Cup had been presented. Lest we forget, the European team was formed because the British alone proved insufficiently talented to give the Americans a run for their money. Alone we lost; together we most usually nowadays win.

Watching the European Ryder Cup players sitting on the platform as the trophy was handed over, one fancied one could detect their nationalities: the Frenchman, certainly the Spaniard, the Scandinavians, the German, the Irish. These distinctions were just of mild curiosity; what really anchored itself in the mind was the team spirit.

We have no quarrel with our European neighbours – otherwise why would we take holidays in our millions in Greece, Spain, Italy and France? Although we may have our criticisms - usually based on stereotype rather than on reality - we also have criticisms of our own countrymen based on similar (often jokey) stereotypes and prejudices. No one suggests casting Liverpool or Birmingham adrift – at least, I hope not.

As the referendum on Scottish independence demonstrated, when the chips are down we know we belong together (and are better off together). The same applies to Europe. Little Englanders will destroy our (already threatened) cohesion, and isolate us from our natural friends. Reform the EU – it is essential and must be done quickly – but don’t drag our very European islands into middle-of-the-Atlantic isolation.

The defections and sentiments of Carswell and Reckless bring babies and bath water to mind.

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