Richard Ingrams: We'd vote with our feet if the EU gave us half a chance

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The Independent Online

The reason that, unlike the Irish, we didn't have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, was that the Government knew perfectly well that it would return an overwhelming no vote just as the Irish have done. And the reason for that is that people have become more and more aware that many of the unpleasant changes that are happening in this country have their origins in Brussels and, further, that there is not much any of us can do about it.

To take only one example – the closure of hundreds of post offices. The Royal Mail is being forced to take action because it is losing money and the reason is that, under EU regulations, it has been obliged to sacrifice its monopoly status and allow competition from rival delivery firms. Then there are the day-to-day stories in the media about petty regulations particularly affecting small businesses.

Typical was the story last week of B&B owners being told by health officers that new EU regulations ban animals from "food preparation areas" (by which they mean kitchens). The people in Brussels have apparently decided that a dog or a cat in the kitchen is a serious threat to health. They are supported, among others, by the principal environmental officer of West Dorset District Council, a Mr Will John, who described the typical farmhouse kitchen as "a high-risk area" and claimed that "most people" would agree with him on that point.

What most people would agree on is that Mr Will John is an idiot. But most people would also agree there is nothing much they can do about it or him. And it is that sense of powerlessness which, if they were given a chance to vote, would influence large numbers of them to vote "no", even it they knew it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference.

Blair makes a blind leap of faith

Having spent a good 10 years or so satirising Tony Blair in Private Eye as the vicar of St Albion's, we recently launched him in a new role heading up an organisation called DAFT (Drawing All Faiths Together).

It was this new-look Blair who occupied my usual spot in Saturday's Independent, preaching the need for all religions to make common cause to make the world a better place. But it is by no means clear how the vicar reconciled his new campaign with his recent conversion to Catholicism, the most orthodox form of Christianity. Readers of his Saturday article may have noticed he makes no mention of this and is even careful not to describe himself as a Christian. He is "a person of faith".

Blair's fellow Catholic Graham Greene once pointed out in simple language that "Christianity is about facts" (not, as some heretics would like us to think, beautiful poetic myths). It follows, logically, that anyone who accepts those facts, as we presume Blair does, believes that those who do not do so are mistaken or generally blind to the truth.

It also follows that Christians who accept the facts have a duty to persuade others of the error of their ways and to try to convert them to their own way of thinking. Other religions may well think along the same lines. Any attempt to ignore these awkward truths will return merely in well-intentioned waffle. And that, I'm afraid, is all that we are likely to be hearing from the mastermind of DAFT.

Widdecombe writes herself out of the script

Ann Widdecombe, who voted for Gordon Brown in last week's great debate, is as much in favour of 42 days' detention as David Davis is against. The depressing point about this, unnoticed in all the hubbub following Davis's defection, is that both MPs have now written themselves out of the political script. Widdecombe will not stand again; Davis will not get his job back and has been dismissed as some kind of nutcase. He may well be, but probably sane enough to grasp that there is little future for him in the new-look politics. Widdecombe probably thinks the same.

Voltaire once said that to succeed in this world it was not enough to be stupid, you also had to have good manners. What this means in today's context is putting on a nice dark suit, smiling a lot and never saying anything at all interesting. Focus groups are available to tell you what you should say. Alastair Campbell-like figures will be on hand to advise you on how best to say it in order to ensure a favourable headline.

So we now have the situation in which the most interesting politicians are either sidelined, like Frank Field, or are getting out of it altogether, like Widdecombe or Clare Short. It is just alright for Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnston to be Mayor of London, but we can't risk having either of them on the front benches. They might speak out of turn and then there would be headlines about a damaging split.