Why does so much of the media dislike Europe?

From a talk by Denis MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham, whichwas delivered atNuffield College, Oxford
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The Independent Online

To be avowedly pro-European today is to feel part of a small group without a voice or an audience within the media or across the country.

To be avowedly pro-European today is to feel part of a small group without a voice or an audience within the media or across the country.

In the 1980s and early 1990s I lived and worked in different European countries. I found a healthy scepticism in their press about Brussels. But nothing prepared me for the culture of defeatism and hostility about Europe that I encountered when I was elected an MP in 1994.

In my maiden speech, where by convention one finds nice historical points about one's constituency, I referred to Rotherham being the place where the canons that sunk Napoleon's fleet had been forged. As I nervously made my historical allusion there were great cheers from the benches opposite. Bill Cash was leading anti-European Tories in welcoming any reference to the French being sunk.

Nothing has changed. In the current issue of the New Statesman, John Bercow, the Portillo-ite Tory MP, describes pro-Europeans as "Federasts". This unpleasant homophobic expression was first coined by Jean-Marie Le Pen, the racist French politician and has now crossed the Channel. I have to sit in the Commons most days watching a baying mob of Europe-haters on the benches opposite. Like CND supporters in past days, they proudly wear a little lapel badge so that one may recognise another.

I expected when I became an MP to meet robust anti-European journalism. I expected the foreign-owned press to be hostile. As a former journalist I knew the old maxim "First exaggerate, then simplify". But not even I could live with the relentless, day-upon-day cynicism, and mendacity of European coverage.

I had hoped that the 1997 election would make a difference. The Conservatives fought the election on a clear anti-European ticket, including a weird two-page advert depicting a tiny Tony Blair as a puppet being manipulated by a giant Helmut Kohl. Yet the voters' decision seemed clear. The Euro-defeatist Tories were dismissed from power.

This liberal triumphalism did not last long. Just when it appeared the country had made its peace with Europe, the Euro-defeatist media found another issue with which to create fear, alarm and sustain their campaign for partial separation from Europe. So far only the Yorkshire Post has come out for full withdrawal, but it won't be long before the views of William Hague's favourite paper are reflected in the national press.

After years of campaigning against the social Europe of the unions, the press found a new target - the single-currency Europe of the capitalists. And here a remarkable change happened. The cheerleaders of the current anti-European campaign were no longer those on the payroll of Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black.

The most sustained, hostile coverage of the euro is to be found in the pages of The Guardian. The paper's admirable economics editor, Larry Elliot as well as his junior correspondents, engage in regular polemic against the euro. The paper's highly influential and respected political editor, Michael White, remains deeply sceptical about the single currency. Some of The Guardian's editorials on Europe in the past year would not have been unwelcome as Daily Telegraph leaders.

The BBC's economic supremo, Peter Jay, is deeply hostile to the euro, while its new business editor, Jeff Randall, made his name working for Rupert Murdoch. In common with many journalists who rose to prominence since the British political-media élite turned against Europe after Mrs Thatcher's Bruges speech in 1988, his orientation is much more towards the United States.

The anti-Euro stream carries many before it. But as small fish in the river of politics, it is much more more fun to swim against the current.

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