Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: 'In' Trouble

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: 'In' Trouble

Article excerpt

David Cameron wants to get the European Union referendum over with quickly -- and understandably so. Things are still going well for him, and his political opposition is in disarray. The 'in' campaign will draw heavily upon his personal authority and the public is not (yet) fed up with him. Ideally, he wants to start campaigning next month -- and many of his allies are at it already. Opinion polls show a large number of undecided voters. So this may very well be a campaign where a great many are open to persuasion and hoping for a high-quality debate. They will have been disappointed so far.

The 'in' campaign has been up and running for months, and recently secured large donations from Goldman Sachs and other American megabanks. With such resources, we should be hearing fresh, high-quality arguments delivered with passion and elan. Instead, we have had the likes of David Lammy, a former London mayoral hopeful, telling us that a million Indians died during the second world war 'fighting for the European project'. There certainly was a project to integrate Europe at the time, but it is one that Indians (and others) helped to thwart.

Then we have the tragicomic figure of Stuart Rose, who fronts the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign. He seems unable even to remember its name, bizarrely calling it the 'Better Stay in Britain' campaign. It was shocking, but not surprising, to hear that he had not bothered to marshal even the most basic facts. What's worse is to find out that BSE (to use its unfortunate acronym) had not bothered to carry out proper research itself.

It has been making two main claims: that EU membership is worth £3,000 a year per household and saves the average person £450 a year through lower prices. One source is supposedly a 2013 'study' by the Confederation of British Industry -- which turns out not to be a study, but an exercise in cherry-picking other pieces of research. The £450 figure can be traced to a European Commission publication, which, in turn, came from a American paper called 'Globalisation and the Gains from Variety' -- an attempt to quantify the benefits of -globalisation to American, not European, consumers.

How can a well-funded campaign like Britain Stronger in Europe have resorted to such a cavalier use of statistics? Disregard for the facts is, alas, a character trait of many of the most fervent pro-Europeans. In 2011, Nick Clegg, then deputy prime minister, made another claim which has been parroted by the pro-EU camp: 'There are three million of our fellow citizens, men and women, in this country whose jobs rely directly on our participation [in the EU]. …

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