11 October 2006

The fame and the glory

It is a fierce irony that two people who could not be further apart ideologically are currently devoting considerable time and energy to promoting the same cause – a debate on "Europe". Their positioning on the issue, however, raises wider questions about whether it is possible to defeat the European Union.

As to the two putative debaters, in one corner is the fragrant one, not richly endowed in brain cells Рthe one and only Margot Wallstr̦m, EU commissioner for communication, with her Plan D and her fatuous European citizens consulations supported by the King Baudouin Foundation.

Brooding in the other corner is the man who revels in the description "Eurosceptic Yorkshire multi-millionaire", the egregious Paul Sykes who, on Monday, is to launch his "Speakout" campaign on Europe.

But, or so we are told by the Yorkshire Post, Sykes is only one of five people financing the campaign, designed to counter the "conspiracy of silence" on "Europe", with neither of the major parties wanting to debate an issue which has previously caused division.

"We want to secure a nationwide referendum on returning seven vital powers – trade, borders, public spending, law-making, regional government, fishing and farming – from Brussels to Britain", declares Sykes. "Without these rights and powers it is no good pretending any longer that we are a self-governing nation."

Of course we're not a self-governing nation but, by and large, who gives a damn? Certainly not the bulk of the political classes or the soap-opera loving masses who are clearly content with the status quo.

Thus, it is that the Yorkshire Post editorial suggests that, "in the current political environment, Mr Sykes cuts a Canute-like figure in his valiant attempt to stop a seemingly inexorable tide." The editorial continues:

The two likely prime ministerial candidates at the next election, David Cameron and Gordon Brown, both tend to keep their Euroscepticism well hidden. And while surveys show that the EU is a major concern for most voters, it ranks low on their totem pole compared with other matters such as health, education and rising crime. In such circumstances, neither Mr Cameron nor Mr Brown is likely to risk inflaming part rows by raising the European issue.
Apart from the ludicrous error in suggesting that the Boy Camoron has any Eurosceptic inclinations, the YP has a point. Largely, Sykes and his wealthy colleagues (if they exist) are wasting their time. In fact, the editorial goes on to say, in so many words, just that.

It is some consolation that, on the other side of the divide, the ennui and lack of interest is just as prevalent. One notes that the Europhiles got there first with their own "Speakout" campaign, via the Institute for Citizenship, setting up a discussion forum under the banner vision for Europe.

Hilariously, though, the site has been spammed by ads for viagra and other pharmaceuticals (see below - double-click to enlarge), a fate that could so easily befall our own forum as we are constantly assailed by fraudsters trying to sign on a members, requiring constant vigilance in fending them off.

But, if Sykes – with his £10 million or whatever amount he does actually intend to spend – is wasting his time and, if the EU with all its millions to spend, is failing to get its message across, what chance have the rest of us?

Although Sykes and Wallstr̦m are not the only ones calling for a debate, people are just not interested in the European Union. Even we, nerds amongst nerds, find the subject tedious and, as far as the blog goes, we get our highest hit rates when we do not write about the EU. In fact, the less we write about the EU, the higher our hit-rate. But, if we really wanted our hit rate to soar, we would abandon politics altogether and post video clips Рone such on U-tube taking better than a half-million hits (see below right).

The comparison is perhaps invidious, given the subject matter of the video, but it need not be the case that the EU attracts so little attention. That it does simply reflects the human condition: people tend not to concern themselves about things they cannot change. And, as long as our membership of the EU is not in question – as long as it stays off the agenda – it is not going to become a mainstream issue.

To make this any different is beyond the resources of Mr Sykes – or any of us. It is going to take one or other of the two mainstream parties to make a conscious decision to put membership on the agenda, pledging to the British people that they intend to take the nation out of the EU. Since neither have the slightest intention of doing such a thing, the subject is going to remain politically dormant unless change is forced upon them.

The question is, therefore, what would it take for either Labour or the Conservatives to take up the cause? In broad terms, the answer is simplicity itself: when or if either party feels that it is of such importance that it cannot win an election without taking it on board. And here, the one tenable scenario is that the Not-the-Conservative Party failing to win power at the next election. In that happy event, Camoron would undoubtedly fall on his sword and, in our dreams, the Party would elect a staunchly Eurosceptic leader who would lead us to the promised land.

That may be the dream, but it is more like a fantasy. Does anyone seriously think that the current group of intellectually challenged pygmies is going to blame its lack of devotion to the Eurosceptic cause as a reason for its failure?

For anyone who does think that, Booker pointed out the obvious this weekend. The BBC line is that the chief reason the Tories lost three elections was that although their recent leaders had all begun by taking a moderate line on "Europe", each had been dragged by the party's Eurosceptics into becoming ever more extreme. And this, he writes, chimes with Camoron's insistence that the Tories failed because "while parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life, we were banging on about Europe".

If that is the current state of play then, what hope is there for Euroscepticism? Is there anything else that would put "Europe" on the top of the political agenda and force politicians seriously to consider our withdrawal from the European Union?

These are, of course, matters we have rehearsed again and again, most recently here and one answer is that the media – goaded and informed by the political blogs – could raise sufficient of a storm to prod the politicians into action. Given the diversity and general lack of political acuity of the British blogosphere, however, that is not so much wishful thinking as delusory, leaving very little in the way of alternative options.

This effectively brings into sharper focus the line of thinking I articulated here, where I wrote of my growing realisation that pursuing the cause of Euroscepticism was a complete and utter waste of time.

For sure, I later wrote that we were going to continue running this blog with a view to building our circulation but I suppose in many ways what puts a line under that is the Sykes campaign.

In between his comfortable little cruises on his private yacht, he has come back to reinvent a wheel, on the back of all the other little groupescules that are inventing their own versions of the wheel, whether Open Europe, the Democracy Movement, Better off Out, UKIP, or whatever, all expending time, money and effort to no effect at all.

Well, the likes of Sykes can waste his money and the others can waste their time – some making a fairly comfortable living in the process – but I have neither time nor money to waste on fruitless endeavours. They can have their fame and glory. I need to find something better to do with what is left of my life.

I may be some time.