How the EU silly season finally ended

A long-awaited serious discussion on Britain's place in Europe is the welcome result of a referendum that may never happen

The Government is now paying the wages of spin. The Europhiles have much to answer for. The media Europhobes may have behaved disreputably and pursued a line of dubious morality and questionable accuracy, but they have been shooting at an open goal. The blame for the state we're in lies elsewhere. If you're Prime Minister, and you shrug about loss of trust and say they've all got it wrong, particularly the media, then you certainly learn about the importance of trust when you need it, and haven't got it.

After a crazy week of chaos in Iraq, sniping former diplomats, European constitution fall-out, questions of whether "No" means "No" or "Try Again", immigration policy, and a few quick policies on the future of the planet, we have returned to the traditional meaning of spin. Being in one.

Never did blaming the media seem so unconvincing. Tony Blair and other cabinet ministers have the gall to talk about the "gross distortions" and misrepresentation of Europe over the years, and the media's refusal to discuss the "real issues". They brag about instituting a proper debate about the real issues, all dressed up as a referendum they never wanted. Where were you when we wanted a proper debate, wanted to stop the little England press getting away with it?

You had professional rebutters, such as Alastair Campbell, arrogantly savaging anyone who dared criticise the Government, rather than defending, or even explaining, the policy. It was always better to ignore the difficult questions about Europe while the opponents not only asked them but answered them too. The Eurosceptics, tapping a vein of support across the country, had a field day which actually lasted several years.

We weren't supposed to talk about the euro because there was no point until Gordon decided we had passed the five tests, and - anyway - there would be a referendum sometime so why waste breath now, particularly if it might upset Gordon. No one bothered to explain the constitution, except those who wanted to represent it as the end of Britain as we know it.

The pro-Europe press weren't much better. True, Europe did not sell many newspapers, but there were not many who engaged in a continuous and intelligent debate about this vital issue. With no lead coming from the Government, they had every excuse. But it was left to a very small number of interested columnists to keep the issue before their readers.

The Eurosceptic press did not need to feel constrained by the tedious aspects of the European project. Their wilful misinterpretations of what Europe really meant for this country were much more entertaining. I have collected the more extreme examples over the years. Like the Daily Mail telling us that a German would command the forerunner of the new European army. Like The Sun presenting "this stubborn French woman [Dominique Vovnet, the environment minister] who wrecked bid to save our planet." Like the Telegraph's obsession with "the metric martyr", Steve Thoburn, who insisted on selling bananas in imperial weights. Like the Mail's headline: "The scandal of why cod has had its chips - the death of Britain's favourite food is a devastating indictment of the European Union." I could go on and on. But one last one: The Sunday Telegraph telling us, under the headline "Lottery players to pay the price of joining euro", that lottery tickets would cost more if we joined the single currency. That one on the front page.

We have had more stories in all the papers about the EU over the past couple of weeks than in any similar period in the past seven years. Are we at last to have a proper debate as a result of the referendum that may never happen? Is Blair, for all the wrong reasons of expediency, at last getting the real debate he has done nothing, until now, to inspire?

So far, the newspapers have seized the hour. The accession of 10 new EU members yesterday has produced a series of articles on these countries, and a BBC Radio Five tour of the accession states. The Guardian published a full page giving both sides of the constitution debate, "The top 10 points of contention". The same paper gave the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Ancram, space to present the "No" case.

Blair, in his new state of spin-lite humility, takes the time to explain his attitude to immigration in a cool and considered speech. He (or an aide) takes the time to prepare articles in the Daily Mirror and The Times about the case for Europe. Suddenly, the art of persuasion rather than aggressive spin is being deployed by political leaders. And at last the newspapers, whose first job is to report, have something to report.

The Telegraph invited editors from major European newspapers to present their views on the constitution referendum debate. The Independent devoted a compact front page to the issue, with maps and details of the stance of all 25 EU states. The Daily Express and The Sun polled their readers, and amazingly both produced more than 90 per cent of "No" votes. The Telegraph's poll produced only 51 per cent.

It is not that the antis among the press have changed their views, or that the Express has stopped behaving unpleasantly over immigration and the "threat" posed by the accession states. But now the debate has two sides joining in. That is a healthy development.

I know it's not fashionable to say nice things about Andrew Neil (it never has been). I worked for him at The Sunday Times for two years and let us just say, for now, that dull it wasn't. These days he has what I think is called a portfolio career. I watch his late evening BBC1 politics programme, This Week, regularly. Its achievement - apart from being amusing, irreverent and informative - is the unlikely chemistry Neil creates. His regular guests are Dianne Abbott and Michael Portillo, who would be expected to hate each other in a Commons context but clearly don't. On Thursday, Iain Duncan Smith substituted for Portillo and seemed like a man who had at last found some peace, and some interesting things to say. Again, civilised discussion with Abbott. Complete absence of yah-boo. It wasn't like that at The Sunday Times. Perhaps editorial conferences should have been televised.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

MEDIA DIARY

Racing uncertainty

Tom Rubython is back. The founder of the original Sunday Business (which went bust under his charge), as well as Eurobusiness and F1 Magazine on motor racing, is promoting The Life of Senna, his biography of the Brazilian motor racing legend Ayrton Senna. The ever-modest Rubython describes the book as "the first proper story of a man the world revered and whose like will never be seen again". This will come as a surprise to our former colleague Richard Williams, whose 1995 book The Death of Ayrton Senna is regarded as definitive.

Mandy misread

The Daily Mail's Ephraim Hardcastle sought to read something sinister into the fact that Peter Mandelson (above) was seated several pews away from Tony Blair at the memorial service for the late Stewart Steven, former editor of The Mail on Sunday and the Evening Standard. Perhaps Mandy was miffed at Tony's decision to call that referendum? The truth was less sinister. The politicians were simply following the instructions of Associated Newspapers, owner of the Daily Mail, which had allocated the seats.

Paris pied-á-terre

The resignation of The Daily Telegraph's Paris correspondent, Philip Delves Broughton - who is off to Harvard Business School, fed up with interfering features editors - raises a question mark over the future of the paper's vast apartment-cum-office on the Rue de Rivoli. Offering views of the Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower, it has to be the swankiest of any of Fleet Street's outposts. Will the budget cutters now scrap it? Unlikely, says a Canary Wharf mole: "Our top editors and executives find it too useful a place to stay when they are on 'fact-finding' visits to Paris with their families."

Catholic tastes

Best known for his sermons as Minister of Wesley's Chapel in City Road, the Rev Leslie Griffiths (below) has a curious job on the side, fronting the radio show of The Tablet, favourite mag of Britain's Catholic intellectuals. Asked whether the Catholic Church has no sufficiently qualified broadcasters of its own, editor Catherine Pepinster declares herself well satisfied with the arrangement. (And is, one wonders, the Pope a Methodist?)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Advertising and Marketing Communications Manager

£52000 - £58000 per annum + benefits, company car: Ashdown Group: Advertising ...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor