Thursday, 18 February 2016
EU mini-decision day
Fingers crossed that David Cameron comes out with some sort of decision about Britain's demand for mini-changes in the way the European Union conducts itself, and we can (after a four month delay here in Britain while we argue about the dots on the "i"s and crosses on the "t"s) move on to wrestling with the reallu serious problems which confront our country, the EU and the world.
If there is a decision, than there is no doubt that Cameron will use his PR skills to announce it as a great triumph. For once his undoubted skills will be on the side of rationality rather than deception so we must be thankful for them. They will be sorely needed.
There are three major obstacles to be overcome in the referendum debate.
First is the overwhelming anti-EU bias of the majority of our press. This has little to do with with either the facts of the case or the normal political stance of the newspapers concerned, and all to do with the prejudices of their owners. Rupert Murdoch, originally Australian but now a citizen of the US, owns The Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun and the Sun on Sunday (formerly the News of the World) The Barclay brothers, resident in the Channel Islands, own the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, and Lord Rothermere the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday. Murdoch, the Barclay brothers and Rothermere are all, for reasons best known to themselves, strongly anti-EU and, though it is denied, this is reflected in the reporting of these newspapers. That leaves only a minority of the press: largely the Daily Mirror, the Guardian and Observer, to give a more objective and, I hope, more positive view towards he EU. The Daily Express will doubtless continue to obsess about the weather and the death of Princess Diana.
So a level playing field of public debate there will not be. The BBC, alas, allows the print media to define the news agenda on a daily basis so even they are likely to give more airing to the Brexit side of the debate than is merited.
Second, although the British public voted two to one in favour of remaining in the EU in the previous referendum in 1975, today the public mood is much less deferential. Then we bowed obediently to the collective view of all three major parties and the business community: today we are much more likely, and with some justification, to give them a kick in the teeth. That is the problem with referendums: people are likely to vote not on the question on the ballot paper, but as an expression of frustration with the powers that be.
Third, whereas those of us in favour of remaining in the EU, even becoming enthusiastic members, recognise that the whole present palaver is merely a device for Cameron to out-manoeuvre his Eurosceptics, dish UKIP and keep his party intact, and so are rather bored by the whole business, the Brexit brigade have fire in their bellies and will fight tooth and nail to achieve what they see as a better yesterday.
So we pro-Europeans must stir our stumps, campaign with equal or even greater vigour and, after what I fervently hope will be a victory for "Remain," then get on with the very urgent and exceptionally dangerous problems facing the world (the revival of East/West tensions, war in the Middle East, the refugee crisis, the possibility of another banking melt-down, to name but four) and Britain (shortage of affordable housing, a yawning balance of payments deficit, growing inequality, shamefully low productivity, to name but another four.)