Magazine article The Spectator

Eurosceptic Newspapers Are Too Competitive to Work Together on a Referendum

Magazine article The Spectator

Eurosceptic Newspapers Are Too Competitive to Work Together on a Referendum

Article excerpt

Polly Toynbee of the Guardian believes that the Daily Mail is responsible for most of what is wrong with this country. When she learnt that the paper was intending to hold its own referendum on the new European constitution, the streets of Clapham, where Polly has her house, began to tremble. 'Who runs the country?' she demanded to know in her column of 21 May. The answer was that the 'rightwing press barons' with their 'raucous bullying' want to. The Daily Mail was naturally the worst offender. Its decision to have its own plebiscite was 'a crude usurpation'. Polly seemed to think that the paper was asking the citizens of Britain to make a judgment about 'an as yet unformulated EU constitution', though in fact it was merely asking them to vote on whether or not they wanted a proper referendum.

Despite Polly's fears, there is as yet no evidence that the Daily Mail is running the country. Looking out of my window, I am glad to say that I do not see any of its executives patrolling the streets. Its polling day has come and gone with the world taking almost no notice, though the paper itself worked up a considerable head of steam. (I should remind readers that I write a column for the Mail.) Nearly 1.7 million people - slightly less than one third of the newspaper's total readership - took part in the referendum on 12 June. Of these, 89.8 per cent were in favour of a referendum. A poll carried out by ICM for the paper of nearly 50,000 people an enormous sample by normal polling standards - produced almost identical results.

Readers will judge for themselves the significance of these findings. Being myself a passionate supporter of a referendum, I would like to think that they are very significant. But one has to face the fact that outside the pages of the Daily Mail the results were barely noted. And, although the Mail has lots of readers, all the other titles put together have very many more. Many people do not read newspapers, and had they relied upon radio or television they would not necessarily have received a full account of the Mail's polling day. The BBC shares many of Polly's reservations about the Mail in general and its referendum in particular. As for the other newspapers, even the Eurosceptic ones were unable to muster any sense of solidarity with the Mail. Their highly developed competitive feelings compelled them mostly to ignore the referendum.

Indeed, these same feelings have led several publications, including this one, to grab credit for having had the idea of a referendum in the first place. The editor of this magazine is adamant that it was The Spectator which first proposed it (no doubt correctly), and yet its sister publication the Sunday Telegraph has also claimed authorship. One Independent columnist has suggested that the notion was formed in his head. The Sun has run its own telephone poll which it appears to believe has the status of a referendum. Amid this competitive babble there was no inclination among the Eurosceptic press to talk up the Mail's own referendum in advance. The Daily Telegraph was good enough to mention it in a leader before loftily dismissing it, while the fiercely Eurosceptic Sun ignored it altogether. Though its views on Europe are similar, the Times could not bring itself to rally to the Mail's, support in a leader. Even the Mail's sister publications, the London Evening Standard and the Mail on Sunday, failed to offer any covering fire. …

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