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


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?)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Sauce Recruitment: Programme Sales Executive - Independent Distributor

£25000 - £28000 per annum + circa 28K + 20% bonus opportunity: Sauce Recruitme...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Are you an ambitious, money mot...

Guru Careers: Investment Writer / Stock Picker

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A freelance Investment Writer / Stock Picker ...

Guru Careers: PPC Account Executive / Paid Search Executive

£20 - 24K + Benefits: Guru Careers: An enthusiastic PPC Account / Paid Search ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project