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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The press, politics and the bloggosphere

Still busy. Sorry. More posts soon. For now, a quickie:

There looks to be a friendly disagreement between (pro-EU) Toby of Straight Banana and (anti-EU) EU-Serf of The Road to Euro Serfdom over the merits and bias of that mighty organ that is the British national press when it comes to the EU.

As both bloggers are entertaining and eloquent chaps (well, I assume EU-Serf is a chap, I’m not entirely sure), it makes for a fun and interesting read. I’m hoping they’re going to keep it up – I’d weigh in myself, but truly haven’t the time to formulate a decent post. Rest assured, the run-down is roughly as follows:

Enter Straight Banana, stage left:

- The UK Press is generally anti-Europe and perpetuates myths in a manner which, were they to apply similarly slack levels of fact-checking to any other area of public life, would result in public outcry. But at least the myths are amusing…

Enter EU-Serf, stage right:

- Ah-ha! But what about the BBC, eh? They’re always spouting pro-European pap! We need the likes of the Sun to balance out the state-sponsored selling of our sovereignty!

The great thing about this is, Toby at Straight Banana (though always enjoying a dig at the Eurosceptics) is no fool, and so desn’t stoop to mindless, one-sided attacks. Liewise, EU-Serf (though always enjoying a dig at pro-Europeans) is also no fool, and likewise avoids silly, one-sided attacks. My silly little summaries really don’t do either of their posts justice – they are both well worth a read, and both make several very good points.

Even though EU-Serf was responding to Straight Banana’s post (and Toby may not even be aware of this yet), there is a mutual respect here from two people from different sides of the European argument, because both can acknowledge the other’s intelligence and sensible arguments when they are presented.

So, perhaps the question we should be asking is not “why is the press biased one way or the other?”, but “why are the respective leaders of the pro- and anti- EU campaigns so insistant in presenting everything in overblown and fraudulent terms?” On the evidence of these two posts from two people with very different takes on the EU as a whole, there is – between the lines – much agreement. Both recognise many shades of grey. But in the current climate it is very hard to admit this. Pro-Europeans feel if they acknowledge bad points that shows the EU is flawed; anti-Europeans feel if they acknowledge good points their argument is likewise weakened.

The Yes Campaign routinely claims that the EU is not a leech on British sovereignty, almost everything it does is great, and anyone who can’t see the benefits must be a fool. This is obviously nonsense.

The No Campaign likewise consistently alleges that the EU is destroying the British nation, introducing mindless and petty laws, forcing foreigners in, and will destroy everything you know and love. Equally rubbish.

The truth, as ever, is somewhere between the two, but we are only ever presented with binary opposites. Either you are pro-Europe, or you are Eurosceptic. This is a nonsense (and the fact that “Eurosceptic” – in current usage – doesn’t actually mean what it says and the term should probably be “Eurocynic” is simply a further complication – I am sceptical about the EU in many ways, yet I am certainly not a Eurosceptic as the term is used today).

If we as a nation are going to come to a decent conclusion over this whole mess – and not just Europe, but also my pet topic of the lack of a viable opposition – we need intelligent people from all sides of the political divide to sit down and talk like rational human beings. Avoid the name-calling that is so endemic in the Republican/Democrat split of the US, and debate reasonably without any of the petty point-scoring and one-upmanship which can be witnessed day-in-day out on the floor of the House of Commons.

This country’s current poltical system was built (largely) in the 18th century (largely) on reasoned and sensible debate – even if this seems to have fallen out of fashion these days. Likewise, the 18th century saw a boom in political pamphleteering from the likes of Addison, Defoe, Swift, Paine and Johnson (and umpteen more which Europhobia’s Matt could tell you far more about than I).

They used intelligence and wit to get their point across, and it worked. The good arguments and viewpoints rose to the surface on merit. Because, lest we forget, (almost) everyone really wants the best for the country: whether you’re pro- or anti-Europe, Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem – even (at a stretch) UKIP. We may all disagree on the best means – and even the best ends – but in the final analysis that is what we all want, because the best for the country we live in is likely to be the best for us as individuals.

The comparison between blogs and pamplets has been made before, and discussed many times, but it remains a fair and good one.

There is a need today for the same kind of intelligent and witty debate as took place in teh 18th century if our stagnant polity is to be revived. As it stands at the moment, I wouldn’t liken any blogger to any of those great figures of yestercentury – and I certainly can’t name a single MP capable of delivering speeches of the kind that were reported given by the Disraelis and Sheridans of days gone by. At the moment I’d say we are more at the level of the English Civil War pampleteers and nascient parliamentarians (in the broadest sense – not just the Roundheads) of the 1640s than those of the Golden Age post-1695. But we might – just – be on our way there.

With the sort of dedication our 18th and 19th century forebears showed, and through avoiding the infantile rants and spats which are so prevalent online, bloggers – and (perhaps especially) the choices and responses of their readers – have a genuine chance to make a positive impact on current political debate.

As you may have guessed, this is a bit of a pet idea at the moment. The trouble is, for every restrained, amusing and reasonable voice like those of Toby at Straight Banana and EU-Serf at The Road to Euro Serfdom, there are ten thousand rabid maniacs who have yet to get over the novelty of internet anonymity and realise that even under a pseudonym it is possible to maintain a sense of dignity and intelligence. Hell, half the most influential and successful pamphlets of the 18th century were written under pseudonyms. Today Private Eye is largely written under pseudonyms, and it’s probably the best political magazine going.

The difficulty we face is that, in democratic systems like those in which we are lucky enough to live, our political class – and our fourth estate – reflects what it perceives to be the character of the people it has been elected to represent. The fact that our polticians and newspapers are (for the most part) obsessed with petty-minded and childish attempts to make those they disagree with look silly is an indictment on our whole society.

It is time for a change. We live in a democratic society. So the change has to come from us.

5 Comments

  1. Ah young monkey… of course you know the answer to this. In an age where terrorist attacks bring down the world's tallest buildings and protestors storm parliament to get their points across, where popstars are forced into arranged marriages to sell records and fathers "4 justice" feel that dressing up as psychotic orphan vigilantes and shutting down motorways is going to get them access to their kids, the only thing which works in public political debate is bloody-minded dogmatism.

    Accepted wisdom has it that the way to sell a political argument is boil down your opponent's views to base stupidity and then shout them ad nauseum. Whoever shouts the loudest wins. As can be seen from the wide range of partisan web sites (whether with regard to the EU or recent elections) this idea seems right, as these same 'arguments' are the ones with impact enough to be parroted by online journals, blogs and "ooh, look it's George Bush with the body of a monkey" 'humour' sites web-wide.

  2. But… But… But… Reasoned and intelligent debate! That's so much better than Bush with the body of a monkey…

    Oh… Wait… Heh! Munkie! He does look like a munkie!

    Republicans are teh 5uxx0rz!!!oneone!!eleven!!!

    *sigh*

    A man can dream, can't he?

  3. So much to say, so little space in the tiny comments box. Thanks for the heads-up and the kind remarks, though.

    I think Steve's comment pretty much hits the nail on the head. On the one hand, you have mainstream public political debate, which is (often) polarised, sound-bitey, simplified, and loud. On the other, you have blogs and academia, which are (often) measured, detailed, friendly and moderate. Why the difference? Because they are aimed at different audiences. Politicians want to be noticed, to win voter recognition, to make headlines, to draw clear distinctions between themselves and other politicians. Academics and bloggers are more often motivated by the desire to enter into genuine debate and get to the bottom of issues. If a blog entry gets ignored by all but the academic few, it's no big deal; but if a politician gets ignored by all but the academic few, it's political suicide.

    Contrary to current received wisdom, I'm sure that most politicians are perfectly intelligent, genuine and reasonable people. After all, they're people like the rest of us. But they (and their press officers) ply a trade which doesn't reward intelligence, genuineness and reason. Therein lies the difference.

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  5. There's no solution, is there? We're a society of morons.

    Of course, the major difference between now and the 18th century is universal suffrage.

    Maybe we should bring back property qualification? Or only give the vote to people with degrees? ("Proper" degrees only of course…)

    The only thing is, I'd rather like it if they could wait until after the property price crash the Daily Mail keeps going on about actually happens – that way I might be able to afford a house and keep my vote.