Thursday, October 28, 2004
Who really cares?
Yesterday, as I was relaxing in the gym following a hectic day, one thing occurred to me. Amongst all the overenthusiastic whooping, hollering and jubilation of Conservative Press Officers, as they celebrated the downfall of Kilroy; amongst the scornful sniggers of Eurosceptics as they revelled in the display of Europhile disarray over the Commission vote delay; and amongst the general excitement of a bear-pit debating chamber in Strasbourg, the thought struck me: does anyone at home in the UK care? The more I thought about it, the more downcast I became.
So Kilroy has quit? Who cares? One news page and a sub-heading on BBC News.
So the Commission vote was delayed? Who gives a damn? Does it affect house prices, fuel costs and the price of bananas? No.
So lots of MEP's got angry and shouted at each other. How many Britons in one hundred would be able to name even one of those MEP's? One? Two, if lucky?
One of the reasons the EU has been able to inveigle itself so easily into British life and British law is that no-one knows or much cares about it. The EU Institutions can do what they like: people at home feel disclocated from the EU, so EU stories won't sell newspapers (except the Daily Mail...), so there's no effective Fourth Estate scrutiny as there's no imperative for the media to raise hype about it.
At national level, some of the things the EU gets away with would cause governments to fall and Prime Ministers to resign - the Eurostat scandal, the repeated failure to balance their books, the financial waste on a vast scale, the ardent expenditure of taxpayers' money on ceaseless self-promotion. Yet because no-one knows or cares, and the media fail to properly inform the electorate, there is barely a flicker of interest in these massive scandals.
Yes, the Commission nonsense was a big deal for us politics hacks in our Eurobubble, but it means absolutely nothing to the average UK man-in-the-street. The EU is responsible for the origin of 66% of British law. They're actually far more important in legislative terms than Blair, or Howard, or (snigger) Kennedy, and yet not one person in ten can name one of the Commissioners-elect. We can get as excited as we like here in Brussels over Euroshenanigans; however, until people realise just how crucial and utterly vital to our national interest this EU business is, both Eurosceptics and Europhiles alike will have difficulty in getting anyone at home to care.