IF there are certain people whose ideological stance irks Chris Patten then they are not just north of the border in China. No, one of the real betes noir of the current Governor of Hong Kong is a figure much lauded in Europe, an extremely wealthy man who shared a platform with former Tory party leader Lord Tebbit and former Chancellor Norman Lamont at the Conservative party conference last Autumn. He is Anglo-French, extremely influential and no doubt capable of drumming up a large following. He was recently elected a Member of the European Parliament and indeed he is just forming a Referendum Party in Britain to argue before the citizens of the UK the case for them choosing through a referendum whether or not they want further integration with Europe. Reader do not turn away at that phrase 'integration with Europe', distinctly off-putting though it is. This is only peripherally about the European Union, it is more about a man who would spend his millions knocking the trading potential of Hong Kong, China and Asia with the rest of the world if he got his way. He is Sir James Goldsmith. Sir James was well known to the people of Britain back in the late 70s when, fearing a crypto-Communist conspiracy throughout the British media, he published the briefly popular news magazine Now and like many a tycoon with more cash than ideological sense lost a lot of money to boot. Now is chiefly remembered among my generation of journalists for the generous redundancy packages hacks at that time managed to wheedle out of it. But Sir James is at it again now as the voice of populism, through the referendum idea and the megaphone of protectionism. Like Ross Perot and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy he is a Pluto-populist. He believes he is a great man struggling on behalf of the little people. Only the little people he would help are those in Europe, not the struggling peasants of a Chinese province or Indian state. It is in that way that he particularly irks Mr Patten. The Governor commented shortly before he left Britain at the weekend that he intended to continue returning to Europe to keep Hong Kong high on the political agenda in London - and to rail against protectionism. He believes, not without cause, that protectionism lurks, albeit often unstated, through the corridors of the European Union, a force capable of massive damage to world trading prospects. You have only got to look at the existing tariff barriers against a whole range of goods from China, every one of them inherently protectionist, and it is easy to see how today protectionism is contained, but not entirely defeated. That is extra-EU protectionism. It exists within the EU too in the form of the much loathed Common Agricultural Policy which subsidises the politically significant farming populations of some countries to the disadvantage of others. 'There are those in the European Union today who seek to justify protectionist policies directed against emerging nations in Asia or Africa or South America, on the grounds that as these emerging nations do not have the same level of social infrastructure as the rich nations of Europe, their competition is somehow unfair,' commented Mr Patten in October. 'There are some eloquent spokesmen for this protectionist case: none more so today than Sir James Goldsmith. The Goldsmith vision is in many ways idyllic, crafted perhaps to appeal particularly to French public opinion, but probably attractive to a wider audience.' Last week the Governor was on his favourite theme again condemning populism and its simplistic offshoot protectionism as a 'bacillus' currently finding the right conditions in which to thrive in Europe and North America. He regaled against Sir James and Mr Perot by name again: 'Once some leaders in developing countries used to argue for protectionism to safeguard their economies from competition from the rich. Now, as the poor embrace the case for free and open markets, some in the richer market economies appear to want to turn their back on those same principles. Enter the billionaire protectionists: and I hope exit soon, too.' Disregard whatever opinions you may have about his handling of Hong Kong political issues, there can be no denying that Chris Patten is the pre-eminent flag waver for the territory in Europe and beyond Hong Kong for China and Asia too. Arguing down protectionism plays no small part in that exercise. He told a City of London audience at a lecture for Atlantic College on Thursday evening that European protectionists like Sir James argued for Fortress Europe. 'It is incidentally paradoxical that some of these populists combined rage against Brussels centralisation with the advocacy of the far more centralised direction within Europe of a trade policy aimed against the rest of the world.' Then he went on to destroy the protectionists' arguments point by point warning that in essence it can only lead to poverty and isolation and that if you pay to preserve jobs against foreign competition what you do is to pin people into low paid, higher skilled jobs. Chris Patten read Goldsmith's new book The Trap a few months ago and doubtless it disturbed him. It is an exercise in that 'yellow perilism'. Goldsmith advocates regional trading blocs with internal free markets but external protection from each other. He claims this system would act as a defence against the potentially catastrophic effects of the introduction of four billion people into the world economic system from China, India and the former Communist regimes. It became an instant bestseller in culturally isolationist France last year. In a growing European Union with southern member states simplistically trying to protect their backward industries from outside competition there will be many who would welcome his idea of trading blocs trading freely internally but with tariffs to outsiders. Fortunately his arguments are still to a large extent discounted across Northern Europe. But Mr Patten is correct to sound these warnings now. The right in Britain is not currently protectionist though it flirts with Sir James whose funds, based ironically on 30 years of successful free trading, also prove useful. But in Britain, Goldsmith's populism against European integration means he inherently finds himself lined up with the powerful Tory Euro-sceptics and the rebels who have defied the party whip. His influence is, if not yet accepted, at least waiting in the wings. It is a force of eloquence - and economic danger.