There is something faintly distasteful about using children as political agents. One thinks of the Spies, the youth organisation in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, or of the revolting Pavel Morozov, who was murdered by vengeful kulaks after shopping his own parents for hoarding grain. (Stalin decreed a full Soviet state funeral for the boy but, as the coffin passed, was heard to remark, “What a rotten little shit, sneaking on his mum and dad like that.”)
Obviously there is no comparison between such sinister outfits and the attempt by pro-EU campaigners to enlist kids to their cause. Although I naturally think they are wrong, I don’t doubt the decency or the sincerity of Remain activists, many of whom are my friends. If they think that the best way to reach older voters is through younger relatives – inspired, supposedly, by the “grab-a-granny” campaign used by supporters of same-sex marriage in Ireland’s recent referendum – that’s a valid democratic tactic.
Whether they’re right to portray the EU as modern, rather than as a 1950s hangover, a top-down, corporatist, dirigiste relic, is a different matter. For me, one of the strongest arguments for leaving is that the EU has been rendered obsolete by technology: geographical proximity is irrelevant in a world of Skype and cheap flights, and Britain should raise its eyes from the enervated eurozone to prospering markets across the oceans. Still, as I say, it’s legitimate for the Remain side to campaign in any way it wishes.
What strikes me as dodgier is to insist that we should vote Remain “for our children”. Do Euro-integrationists imagine that the rest of us don’t have children? Or that we don’t care about them?
Helen Lovejoy, the pastor’s wife in The Simpsons, has a tendency to shriek “Oh won’t somebody please think of the children?” in support of wholly contradictory positions. The writers of that venerable sitcom are brilliantly parodying the way in which some campaigners substitute facile moral posturing for rational persuasion. It’s the sort of thing that raises an occasional round of applause on Question Time (“Speaking as a mother, I find it disgusting…”) It’s a trifle disappointing when David Cameron indulges in the same tactic.
I wouldn’t bring this up otherwise but, since Remain campaigners have made it an issue, my wife and I are expecting our third child in July, not long after the vote. I hope that that child will be born into an independent country, inheriting the same freedoms that I was privileged to inherit from my parents. My late father was prepared to take up arms in 1943 to defend Britain’s right to live under her own laws. I don’t want his grandchildren to be deprived of their patrimony. It is, in short, precisely because I am thinking of my children that I’m voting to leave.
Does that make me a better patriot than those who are planning to vote to stay? No: I am sure they are acting in what they believe to be our country’s best interest. Does it make me a better father? Again, no: Remainers are thinking of their children too – parents can hardly do otherwise.
I just wish they’d drop the Helen Lovejoy routine. We Vote Leave supporters are used to being dismissed as xenophobes, half-wits and clowns. Calling us bad parents, too, makes us suspect that EU supporters have run out of arguments.
Daniel Hannan’s new book, Why Vote Leave, is published by Head of Zeus