16 October 2015

The campaign to keep Britain in the EU is in big trouble


Anyone who believes that the UK should stay in the EU ought to be worried. Last Monday, the pro-EU campaign was launched. It was a profoundly unimpressive event. The Chairman is Stuart Rose, who used to run Marks and Spencer. He must know a lot about selling socks; he has no feel for politics. Lord Rose accused those who wish to leave of being unpatriotic. That is a doubly silly comment. In the first place, patriotism does not guarantee virtue. Oswald Mosley was a patriot: so indeed was Hitler. Patriots can be profoundly mistaken.

Second, the charge will annoy a lot of swithering voters, who will never accept that their worries about Europe mean that they are unpatriotic. They would level that charge against the Euro-fanatics, one of whom was on the platform: Roland Rudd, a successful PR man. No-one in Britain is more devoted to the cause of Europe. His presence will not bring the ‘Yes’ camp a single vote, and could lose many. Anyway, what was a PR man doing on the platform? He might be useful as a backroom advisor – but the backroom boys should stay in the back room. As for patriotism, we can paraphrase Dr Johnson: the charge of unpatriotism is the last refuge of the sock salesman.

Perhaps because of Mr Rudd’s influence, the whole affair felt like a PR stunt. Another platform participant was Karren Brady, recently ennobled. The Noble Baroness started her career by helping a fellow called Sullivan to market what could politely be termed erotica. She then moved on to running football clubs. All well and good – but where is the moral depth?

Everything at the launch was reminiscent of Neil Kinnock’s Sheffield rally or Tim Bell’s attempt to turn the 40th anniversary of D-Day into a festival of spam fritters. The assumption was that the British people can be glitzed into voting for the EU. That is profoundly mistaken. As this is a major national issue, the voters will expect a serious national debate. Any side which patronises or talks down to the electorate will be punished, and deservedly so.

There are weighty figures, resonant with moral depth, who should be used. John Major, Alan Johnson, Paddy Ashdown are three obvious examples. So bring them to the fore and gently but firmly edge the PR creatures aside.

It is time for the Prime Minister to impose grip. Mr Cameron believes that government is more important than politics: an admirable conclusion, to be compared and contrasted with the meretriciousness of Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. But he ought to recognise that politics is the entrance fee to government. Once in the White House, George Bush senior forgot that, and look what happened to him.

Yet again, David Cameron seems to need the stimulus of an essay crisis to spur him into action. No doubt the spur will work and the essay will scintillate. But if the PM could finish it ahead of time, for once, this would spare his supporters’ nerve-ends.

Bruce Anderson is a political commentator