Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It is all soooo boring

There was some day jobbing to do, so the Boss over on EUReferendum managed to fisk Lord Pearson's article in the Daily Express on UKIP policies before I got anywhere near it. The article is well worth reading as it sets out (mostly) the real political issues in this country, few if any of which are raised by the main parties who seem determined to pretend that the strange Punch and Judy show that passes for electoral politics in this country is all there is. (Yes, I know there is a third party but it is almost impossible to grasp what, if anything, the Lib-Dims are campaigning about.)

Lord Pearson's main point and conclusion is entirely accurate and anyone who really cares about the future of Britain, should pay attention whether they decide to follow his lordship's advice about voting or not:
This election should be about who governs Britain. Should it be politicians elected by the people of Britain? Politicians whom we can fire if they do not perform or prove themselves corrupt and dishonest? Or should it be run by ranks of ­foreign bureaucrats, unelected, unaccountable and immovable? Why shouldn’t it be the people themselves who have the power to govern? To ask the question is to answer it. To answer it is to vote UKIP.
There are one or two problems there, though. The Boss points to an important one:
Sadly, with such emphasis on immigration, many other relevant issues are given short shrift. And there is no specific mention of climate change - only a passing nod at energy policy, with a reference to "the looming energy crisis". Environmental policy is dictated by Eurocrats, we are told.
Mass immigration is an issue but it cannot be expressed in numbers only. Migration, after all, is a normal human instinct and only people who have no imagination or enterprise resent its occurrence. But there are problems around the fact that the government does not give accurate numbers or any idea as to who actually is entering this country; there are problems around welfare, which needs to be reformed in any case; there are problems around the fact that the EU is in control of immigration and, therefore, promises by both parties are worth nothing. The other problems, to do with cultural clashes and attempts to impose Sharia law have much to do with people who are already here and have been here for two or three generations.

Lord Pearson is right - the subject needs to be discussed fully and fairly; but the Boss is right as well - there are other issues and climate change is one of them.

My other complaint about that last paragraph is the emphasis on foreign bureaucrats. As both the Boss and I have written on many occasions, many of those bureaucrats are British and, in any case, the way the EU is structured, its laws are implemented as national legislation. One must make allowances for the fact that this article was written for the readers of the Daily Express. They do not, on the whole, do nuance.

Well, who does govern Britain? How is the EU structured? Can we find this out from the media, new or traditional? Certainly not the traditional, as we read in the Economist:
THE European Union press pack is in free fall. In 2005, the year I arrived in Brussels, there were more than 1,300 reporters with press badges issued by the European Commission: bright yellow photo ID passes marked with a prominent red P for Press to make sure we can be seen from afar as we skulk in the corridors of power. Back then, I remember being told (endlessly) that in numbers the Brussels press corps was bigger than the Washingon press pack, which I had just left. This year (hat tip my colleague Jean Quatremer), just 752 journalists hold EU accreditation. Almost 200 have left in the last year.
Charlemagne then discusses the reasons, coming to the conclusion that mostly they are economic.

However, he also thinks that there is a problem with the EU not being terribly popular.
It is mostly economic pressures that are shrinking the Brussels press corps. But there is a political problem too, as Jean Quatremer and others admit. The malaise gripping Brussels has its echo in a growing sense that the EU project is just not where the action is.

That is true of countries where the EU is rather popular still, such as the ex-communist countries of east and central Europe. With the heady drama of accession and entry now fading into familiarity, correspondents from eastern Europe were already finding it harder to get into the paper before the economic recession hit.

It is also true of Eurosceptic countries, like Britain. When I arrived in Brussels, six daily newspapers from Britain had staff correspondents in town. Now it is three. Part of it is hostility to the EU: to quote one foreign editor, talking of one of his paper's most senior figures: "xxx hates the EU so much he never wants to read about it." Part of it is that too many British newspapers have spent the last five years or so chasing each other downmarket, leaving little room for foreign news that might require readers to engage their brains and think about stories that are important but unsexy, or require empathasing with foreigners (as opposed to gawking at them or gossiping about them). In fact, I think the true situation of British foreign reporting is even worse than it looks: there are still lots of correspondents in all sorts of posts, like Brussels, Paris or Rome, so it all looks reasonably healthy. But ask those same correspondents what sort of political stories they get to write: too often they most easily make the paper with stories about Nicolas Sarkozy's height, Silvio Berlusconi's love life, or how much Catherine Ashton is paid.
There is no question about it: the EU is unspeakably dull; nor can we doubt that editors of newspapers assume that their readers are more interested in politicians' private lives than in the political decisions they make (though the only response to the dumbing down has been an even greater shrinking of the readership).

What all this misses is that the EU is not foreign news and its doings are vitally important precisely for the reasons Lord Pearson set out in his article: it is where the real government is. A large part of the electorate has begun to understand this, which accounts for the general antipathy towards the main political parties one encounters everywhere. There just is no real reason for voting for any of them and bringing Samantha Cameron or Sarah Brown into the public arena is not going to change that.

With the media resigning its responsibility to tell the people what is really going on, it is left to the blogosphere. Here, too, we run into a problem. How many blogs apart from EUReferendum and this one cover the EU at all or consider its doings to be important? There are a few and with various UKIP activists and PPCs setting up their own blogs of varying quality there will be more. But the main political blogs leave the subject severely alone, knowing little about it and not wanting to get involved in understanding.

It is not really surprising that there is a wide-spread feeling of a large vacuum at the centre of the British political process.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, Helen...you write, inter alia," There is no question about it: the EU is unspeakably dull;....."
    But that is the strength of a bureaucracy...faceless, irresponsible, unaccountable and, mostly, coldly immovable...relentlessly patient...and yes, grey & dull & mortally dangerous.
    "Ich liebe Euch doch alle!"....Remember?...the words of a true bureaucrat.