The Snarling of the Euro Right
Nigel Farage took his snake oil circus to Manchester for the Tory conference a couple of weeks ago. UKIP, the Bruges Group, the Forest pro-smoking group and the ‘Freedom Association’ were all in one room like a Marx Brothers version of Blind Date and I was in a committee in Brussels finalising the new Common Agricultural Policy – I can’t express how sorry I was to miss such a show.
However, I watched and read coverage of the Tory-UKIP event later (research is sometimes a painful thing), and most instructive it was. Nigel Farage was clearly at home with the Tory grassroots, if not the party leadership. As the Telegraph reported, Nigel came as “a conquering hero”, and took the time to say “you frankly didn’t have the balls to put country before party” to, erm, Bill Cash MP over the Maastricht rammy – from 20 years ago. Sky told us that Cash then predicted that the Tories could lose “60 marginal seats [at Westminster] as a result of the UKIP surge” and “a Labour/LibDem pact would be worse for eurosceptics” to which “Farage tells him to get lost.” UKIP tweeted a picture to prove it was standing room only with rolling applause for the conquering hero himself and the Telegraph wound it up with “Wild cheering as Nigel says he will not do any deal with David Cameron ahead of the next general election.”
This is not just a curmudgeonly sideshow. If we’re living in a world where Bill Cash can be called soft on Europe then we are through the looking glass. It would be easy to dismiss this as conference fringe fluff but the UK government doesn’t and so long as the UK government speaks for us in the world then that should give us all pause for thought.
I can’t just write that off as different politics in a different place; when it impacts on the government of the UK and therefore directly influences UK negotiations in the. That’s sad because it’s unnecessary, and based on a toxic legacy of decades of failure to properly understand or engage with the EU. I’ve said before that UKIP is entirely a result of the Tory miscalculation that they can somehow be more UKIP than UKIP and they’re feeding the beast that will gobble them up. The fact is, in London politics it is easier to pander to euroscepticism than face it down for the misleading nonsense it is. The vacuous black-versus-white europhile-versus-europhobic coverage of what is just another part of our government misleads everyone and leaves a toxic residue in the minds of the public.
The “fun” that journalists used to have about the EU banning bagpipes, mince, Mr and Mrs and even Christmas (all have been trotted out, all have never come to pass) has changed in recent months, getting shriller and nastier. With undercurrents of anti-gypsyism, misogyny and xenophobia while being utterly untrue, there was a particularly vile example from the Daily Express just this week.
I can’t the only one concerned that such wanton and demonstrable lies can be peddled in a major newspaper without serious challenge. If the public is hearing this and it’s unchallenged the vocal anger at and distrust of the EU is more than understandable.
The European Commission office in London has a pretty forthright blog trying to nail “euromyths” including this one but once they’ve been put out there then they’re out there. The Express piece has had substantial social media coverage and repeating. How many of the people who came to the story through social media channels will find their way to its demolition?
The media presentation of the EU is shriller now than it ever has been and daft EU stories are no longer only the hunting ground of obscure but headline-hungry backbenchers; they’ve been joined by cabinet ministers. Eric Pickles peddled some fantastic tosh a while back about the EU wanting to standardise birth certificates and other documentation and he repeated it at Tory conference in spite of it being demonstrably false.
Then there are human rights. The UK Home Secretary saying that “judges are on the side of foreign criminals” is ludicrous. She has promised a Tory manifesto that will repeal the Human Rights Act, and has set out a timetable for withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This has been dutifully reported in the press as a government standing up for Britain against those ghastly, bonkers foreigners, ignoring the fact that the Human Rights Convention was a largely British creation of which we should all be proud.
Furthermore, the ECHR is written into the European Union in Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union. In order to withdraw from the ECHR, the UK would have to leave the EU. There has been no acknowledgement of that rather significant fact from the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister. We’re having less than half of this debate.
So many individually thoughtful and intelligent senior UK cabinet ministers cannot be so collectively and catastrophically badly briefed. It must, therefore, be a deliberate political calculation, pandering to prejudice, perhaps in the hope of staving off UKIP.
The UK government is systematically and deliberately denigrating our fundamental human rights which the UK itself did so much to promote. A set of rules the UK voluntarily signed up to is now being presented as some sort of foreign infringement.
A set of rules which a host of states including Armenia, Bosnia and Montenegro are working within apparently pose a unique difficulty for little old Britain. The UK government looks unstable, uncertain and confused in the eyes of others and all of us are tainted with that look.
It is clearer now than ever that when the SNP says that the biggest threat to Scottish participation in the EU is the actions of the UK government, we’re right. Scotland’s voice, with its different tone, must be heard above the UKIP-tainted snarling of the UK government.