‘This going into Europe’, remarked E P Thompson in The Sunday Times a quarter of a century ago, ‘will not turn out to be the thrilling mutual exchange supposed. It is more like nine middle-aged couples with failing marriages meeting in a darkened bedroom in a Brussels hotel for a Group Grope.’
Hugo Young sees it differently. He does acknowledge the exploratory element, but for him the venture is more in the nature of an expedition: a daring Saga holiday for a group of greying nation states, to a new and unknown place.
Of course, you are either on an expedition or you are not. Young’s indictment of the British approach – and This Blessed Plot is half a thousand pages of elegant indictment, the use of ‘Blessed’ soon acquiring its exasperated second meaning – is no more or less than a scholarly fleshing out of the venerable Continental complaint about Britain: that we keep trying to be half on board, it won’t do, and we should bloody well make up our minds.
I am almost persuaded, which is to say not quite. Young traces the early doubts and plans, the false starts, the brilliantly subversive interventions of Charles de Gaulle (an arresting chapter), and the final climbing aboard, with Mr Heath. He goes on to examine Heath’s failure to win, and his