Magazine article The Spectator

Why Can't Tony Hear Them?

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Can't Tony Hear Them?

Article excerpt


Why can't Tony hear them?

Michael Vestey

Curiously enough, there is a person this side of the English Channel who would like to hear reports from the European Parliament broadcast on the Today programme on Radio Four each morning. He is not, apparently, an MEP but actually a human being who goes by the name of Tony McQueen.

Last week he wrote to the first edition of the new series of the listeners' complaints programme Feedback (Friday) that such reports would improve the image of the Parliament, reduce Europhobia and increase contacts with MEPs. Even the presenter Roger Bolton appeared taken aback that someone would wish to wake up to the miserable collection of duds that largely comprise the European Parliament, though, of course, he didn't put it like that. I can tell Mr McQueen that if he ever did hear such reporting on the radio he would instantly metamorphose into a splendid Gorgon of Redwoodian, Cashian and Portillistian proportions.

It certainly turned me into a committed EU-sceptic when I was sent to cover the Parliament in Strasbourg for the World Tonight on Radio Four in the 1980s. The only pleasure to be found was in the city's architecture and superb cuisine which became an antidote to the sheer everyday Swiftian hideousness of this unspeakable assembly, the greatest waste of time and space I have ever encountered anywhere in the world. It is stuffed full of self-important nonentities speaking in tongues like the inmates of a Victorian asylum and chasing paper through endless corridors.

There was another moment of joy to be had: I realised I was the only Euro-sceptic in the building. This caused consternation because the inmates and habitues were to a man and woman riding on the gravy train. Even the journalists seemed mostly to have gone native. It was fun baiting them all and if one did so in a jocular mien one was dismissed as a 'character'.

It was a curious remit, this. The BBC felt it had to cover it in some way and there was a suspicion that the Corporation was paid to do so by either the Parliament or the European Commission though that might not have been the case. We used to ask who was paying but were always fobbed off, somewhat unconvincingly I thought at the time. In fact, it was a useful education, in that it exposed me to the trends in the EC, as it was then called, and woke me up to what was going on. Since then I have followed the whole ghastly federalist project with keen interest. …

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