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By Adam Bouyamourn
A line of Tory well-wishers queue up to shake Daniel Hannan’s hand; many wear tweed, espadrilles, smart ties and there are a few waistcoats casually dotted around the room.
The OCA tribe lounges triumphantly behind Hannan. All around, faces are beaming, foreheads shining. He’s a former OCA president, after all.
To a pair of tweed-wearing fans, he remarks, laughing: “Labour supporters would vote for Mugabe if he was a Labour candidate.” They laugh.
Hannan generates the impression of someone less concerned about domestic politics than might be expected of someone so supportive of British independence and decentralised power.
He is MEP for South East England, and recently gained cyberspace fame after attacking Gordon Brown in a video that went viral on YouTube. He also attracted controversy after loudly espousing the failures of the NHS to an appreciative American audience – of Fox News presenters.
He has a vocal dislike of the power held by party Whips, and an especial interest in electoral reform.
Hannan espouses a diffusion and democratisation of power, but falls short of favouring proportional representation; he dislikes the idea of a party list system, which he thinks “obscures incentives,” making a politician answerable “upward to his leader, rather than downwards to his constituents.”
He is also firmly anti-federalist – perhaps a strange stance for a member of the European Parliament. Hannan insists that while he loves Europe, the idea of power “centralised in Brussels” is anathema.
When asked to respond to Ed Miliband’s comment to The Oxford Student, that Hannan’s allies in the eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists group are “fruitcakes”, Hannan grows quickly defensive, and a round of sneers is elicited from the ring of OCA hacks (who moved to flank him in a semi-circle at the start of the interview, and are – genuinely – baring their teeth).
He claims that the representatives of the Latvian For Fatherland and Freedom Party – who notoriously attended a commemoration for war dead, a significant subset of whom were Waffen-SS – were not a minority; it was, he insists, “a religious commemoration attended by representatives of every party in Latvia, except the party that speaks for the Russian minority.” (More sneering, more teeth.) The Conservatives are also allied with the Polish Catholic Law and Justice Party, who banned gay rights protests in Poland.
It’s interesting that someone so outspoken in his denunciation of EU centralisation must now reconcile his own espousal of the “maximum dispersal of power”, and his nationalist stance with the Liberal Democrats’ cosmopolitan “Europhilia”; in the past Hannan has praised Enoch Powell – not, he claims, for his immigration policies, but for his support of national independence and small government.
Hannan bristles at the suggestion that Chris Grayling’s remarks to the effect that B&B owners should be allowed to turn away homosexuals were discriminatory.
“I see The Oxford Student hasn’t changed, then,” he remarks. (Loud snorting laughs; the OCA hacks’ teeth are horrific.)
He obviously intends this as an insult, but, frankly, it’s gratifying that student journalists during Hannan’s time at Oriel were prepared to query discrimination by senior political officials.
More worryingly, when asked whether such comments reflect the sentiments of members of the Tory party, he doesn’t deny that there many within the party do hold such beliefs.
He then remarks that “most of my gay friends don’t care about being able to use B&Bs.” Is this meant to downplay the significance of such discrimination? If so, perhaps Hannan and his gay friends have mistaken the importance of the issue.
Hannan has all the polished command of an ex-OCA president turned politician. He is dressed in a sharp three-piece suit and is charming to the young Tory tribe who usher him out for afternoon tea.
Underneath his smooth façade, however, Hannan is cagey and at times rather spiteful. It is easy to imagine that Hannan still thinks through the juvenile “us and them” dichotomy of student politics.
As he leaves – party of OCA acolytes at his heels, saying “cool” rather too often – one gains the impression that Hannan is back where he belongs.