The “what if?” game is a favourite among those of us who have spent some time studying history.
What if someone had said in late June 1914: “You know, Franz Ferdinand, I think it might be better if you didn’t visit Sarajevo today”?
Or what if Britain had decided to let France, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary get on with it in August 1914, and sat aside whistling nonchalantly?
The rationale for intervention has always been that Britain cannot allow the Continent to be dominated by a single power that might act against our vital interests.
In which case, our finest minds have done an absolutely cracking job, through 50 years of international politics and diplomacy, in creating a power bloc on our doorstep that seems to be almost uniformly hostile to our notion of who should run the European Union, and how it should develop.
This should not be altogether surprising. The Continental countries’ experience of revolutions, dictatorships and military occupations during the last century is vastly different from our own.
If they wish to forge an ever-closer union with a common currency and uniform laws largely handed down from Brussels, bully for them.
But I sense that a natural majority of the British people shares my reluctance to join them.
Hence at some point we need to stop lying to each other, admit that we want different things, disengage and move on.
There are many respected economists willing to vouch that the net economic cost to Britain of withdrawing from the EU would be marginal at worst, and that the oft-bleated refrain of “three million jobs at risk” is a number simply plucked from the air.
Only one thing gives me pause about embarking on an unreservedly enthusiastic campaign for our early withdrawal from the EU, and it is not the potential impact on business.
It is doubts about the calibre of those who would have to shoulder the burden of running a properly independent country.
Surely those with the privilege of voting in the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum must similarly consider the leadership of the SNP and think: “Really? All on their own?”
Wheezes pour forth from all sides in the year-long campaign for the 2015 general election. The Conservatives offer us HS3 to cap the monstrous folly of HS2 , plus the alluring promise of elected mayors, even though the idea keeps being rejected whenever people are offered a say on the issue.
The evident moral here must be: don’t ask the people.
Any sane person’s heart must surely sink when George Osborne proposes to merge the tax and National Insurance systems, given that the three words even more likely to induce despair than “England football team” are “Government IT project”: a guaranteed recipe for waste and chaos on a truly Brobdingnagian scale.
Meanwhile Labour’s own policy chief Jon Cruddas denounces the “dead hand” at the party’s centre that prevents it from proposing anything similarly radical, and Nick Clegg …
Well, there’s probably no point wasting ink on anything the Lib Dems have to say, given their electoral prospects next year.
Are any of our prospective national leaders really up to the job of leading a nation of 64 million people alone on the international stage?
Our Queen certainly is, but she is 88 and on a job share as head of state of 15 other countries at the same time.
Ed Miliband? Don’t make me laugh.
Nigel Farage? I refer you to my previous answer.
David Cameron is undoubtedly a bit of a lightweight. A former PR man, for heaven’s sake, and I can tell you from decades of direct experience just how useless they are.
But our “friends” in Europe have surely done him a massive favour in appointing as their supremo a man who apparently likes a drop and whose crowning achievement to date has been leading a country with a population around two thirds that of Tyneside.
Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, congratulations. You are officially the man who makes even David Cameron look like a proper statesman.
Now, what if Dave actually calls that EU referendum I am sure he would really rather avoid, and cannot wriggle around to recommending that we all vote to stay?