Magazine article The Spectator

Alas, the Eurosceptic Press Failed to Serve Up Much Red Meat in the Beef War

Magazine article The Spectator

Alas, the Eurosceptic Press Failed to Serve Up Much Red Meat in the Beef War

Article excerpt

I am beginning to think that Europhiles may not always tell the absolute truth. It is a dreadful thought, I know, but increasingly difficult to resist. After `la guerre du boeuf flared up last week, there was the usual outcry about the excesses of the tabloid press. If Polly Toynbee and Hugo Young did not complain, they should have. Chris Patten certainly did. So did a chap called Sir David Hannay, a former British ambassador to the United Nations, who is as unlike his John Buchan namesake as it is possible to be. The general view in enlightened circles was that the tabloids had gone too far. They should call off their Rottweilers.

In fact, with one exception, the dogs of war unleashed by the tabloids more resembled elderly pugs with lumbago. If you had read only the government-supporting Daily Mirror, you would have scarcely been aware of the beef war. The Blairite Express provided more coverage but not in a way that was remotely inflammatory. By its usual standards, the Sun was comparatively timid. When French farmers placed a burning barricade in front of British lorries, the paper asked politely on its front page: `Is this what it means to be at the heart of Europe, Mr Blair?' Only the Daily Mail worked up a real head of steam, with its campaign to persuade readers to boycott French goods. On the day the Sun produced that restrained headline, the Mail's 'splash' sounded more like the Sun: `Merde! what a flaming cheek'.

So, despite what the Europhiles say, the so-called `tabloid excesses' were exhibited only by the Daily Mail. And even that paper was quick to call a truce as soon as the scientists in Brussels confirmed that British beef was all right to eat, declaring in Lord Copper-like style: `Victory for Britain's farmers after Mail campaign to lift beef ban'. The paper was anxious to show it harboured no ill feelings against the French, and after France unexpectedly beat New Zealand at rugby was full of brotherly praise in a leader headlined `Allez France'. The Sun ran an almost identical leader with the same headline.

We now know that `la guerre du boeuf is not over after all. Or perhaps it is over and has been won by the French government, which shows no sign of allowing its people to eat British beef. What the Daily Telegraph bone-headedly called 'a major victory in the cross-Channel trade war' and `arguably the best result for Britain in a row with Europe since Margaret Thatcher' is no victory at all. Perhaps the most idiotic misinterpretation of events was to be found in the London Evening Standard, whose increasingly Europhile and left-wing editor Max Hastings sounds more and more as though he should be editing the Guardian. Max poured much scorn on `the British war party' - and thus by implication the Standard's sister paper, the Daily Mail. `Those who argue that we can never hope for a fair deal in Brussels, since everyone is engaged in a conspiracy against us, have once again been shown to be wrong.'

Oh yeah? Perhaps Max would be good enough to notify us when he is lucky enough to come across a British steak in the Champs-Elysees. Meanwhile I simply observe that during `la guerre du boeuf the allegedly ferocious Eurosceptic press was for the most part more temperate than its Europhile critics would have us believe. No doubt it is sensible to avoid the smear of xenophobia, but it wasn't quite so sensible to declare victory when we hadn't won. It's not over, and six German Under are threatening to follow the French example. …

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