Magazine article The Spectator

How They Spun the Good News from Bruges to Ghent

Magazine article The Spectator

How They Spun the Good News from Bruges to Ghent

Article excerpt

One has to give the PM credit for audacity. Ghent is just down the road from Bruges, where Margaret Thatcher delivered her most famous speech. So Mr Blair and his advisers knew that any speech he made in Ghent would inevitably be contrasted with the Bruges text, which would not be helpful. In Bruges, Mrs Thatcher addressed the big questions: cultural, historical, constitutional and economic. In each respect, she challenged Jacques Delors and the federalists, offering a different interpretation of Europe's past, a different vision of the European future. The Bruges speech was her anti-Federalist Paper.

In Ghent, Mr Blair had no intention of addressing the big questions. His aim was to blur them. So he set out to dissolve Margaret Thatcher's antitheses into a new Blairite synthesis. Mrs Thatcher had been right to warn of the dangers of Euro-centralisation, but she made the mistake of withdrawing into isolation. Jacques Delors was a good European, but perhaps he was 'un petit peu' keen on centralisation. There was a simple solution, however: a third way, as it were. You simply choose the best of both.

This is a Prime Minister who has always used words to obscure meaning, but in Ghent he excelled himself. That was appropriate, because his speech was the climax of the government's recent initiative to restore the public's faith in the European single currency. Needless to say, this was a covert operation, in which no attempt was made to argue the case. Instead, the euro and Europe were conflated, to convey the impression that anyone opposed to the currency was also against the EU.

But the anti-EU case is still at the margins of British political debate, unlike the anti-euro one, which is dominant. So the inference is clear. The government and its Tory federalist allies have no faith in their ability to persuade the British electorate of the merits of the euro, so they will not even waste time making the argument. Instead, they will try to confuse the voters by inventing a phoney opponent whom they believe they can defeat. The hope is that at some future stage, having seen off the anti-EU forces which they themselves invented, they could gull the voters along the following lines: 'You're against the anti-EUs, so you must also be against the anti-euros. Same thing, you know.' In allowing themselves to become Mr Blair's useful idiots, Ken Clarke, Chris Patten and others are making a miscalculation. Just because clever men are prepared to abandon all scruples in their resort to intellectual dishonesty, it does not follow that the electorate is infinitely credulous. Despite Mr Blair's popularity, dumbing down has its limits.

Not, however, in the federalists' use of statistics. Britain in Europe (BiE), the principal pro-euro organisation, has been in charge of promoting the Big Lie: that those opposed to the euro are also opposed to EU-wide free trade. It sought to buttress this wholly untruthful proposition with a number of little lies. BiE persuaded the Express - which will print anything these days - to claim that withdrawal from the EU would cost eight million jobs, a figure which was said to emanate from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Within hours, NIESR's director, Martin Weale, was describing those figures as 'absurd' and a complete distortion of NIESR's research; NIESR was not convinced that withdrawal from the EU would depress long-term employment levels. Mr Weale used the word 'Goebbels'; in BiE and No. 10, they would have taken that as a compliment.

Then Gordon Brown joined in the fun, declaring that 750,000 British firms were currently exporting to the EU. …

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