Wednesday 28 May 2003

Our national disgrace

Phony Tony better be careful or the London cabbies will start refering to "Tony Blairs" rather than "Pork Pies". Unless they already do of course!

Lies, damned lies and Europhobe papers

It has been too long since we heard a Labour cabinet minister strike back at the Europhobia currently spewing from the newspapers of Conrad Black, Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere. Yesterday, that changed.

The Welsh secretary Peter Hain was the man who rose to the occasion. In a Financial Times interview, Mr Hain accused "embittered Eurosceptics" of a campaign of "hype, fantasy, scaremongering and downright lies" about the new European constitution drafted by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's constitutional convention. Each of Mr Hain's charges was spot on. The only disappointment is that Mr Hain should have been so restrained in his condemnation of a campaign which has been a disgrace to British journalism.

Take, as an example, the document that is at the centre of many of the latest wild charges in the Europhobic press. To read the Sun, the Mail and the rest, you might imagine that the EU charter of fundamental rights - which Mr Giscard said yesterday he wants to insert into the draft constitution - is a rough guide to repression, which would confer vast power on a handful of malicious bureaucrats to reduce our ancestral liberties to dust.

Anyone who is tempted to believe such a thing should simply take the trouble to read the 22-page charter itself. They will discover that the charter is a disarmingly admirable document. It spells out, in 54 articles, exactly the rights which most people in most modern societies would regard as both decent and basic. It sets out human dignities and freedoms which are the foundations of a liberal society. It enumerates principles of equality, solidarity and justice which would threaten only the bigot, the thief and the tyrant. Though it seeks to make these rights and principles synonymous with the enlarged European Union, it is respectful towards national sovereignty, local identity and individual liberty.

To say, as the Sun did yesterday, that it puts 2 million jobs at peril and means that Britain will be ruled from Brussels, is simply untrue. To claim, as the Scotsman did, that it is a blueprint for a European superstate, is a lie. To pretend, as the Mail did, that it will sweep almost 1,000 years of British history into the dustbin of history, is a total fantasy. How anyone can pretend, as the Daily Telegraph did, that the documents that Mr Giscard released this week are worse than expected, is beyond rational understanding.

No one who has read the accounts in the Europhobic press over the past two weeks, and who then reads the Giscard drafts themselves, could fail to be amazed by the contrast. Pompous? Sometimes. Platitudinous? Often. Plodding? Yes, more often than one would like. But the death knell of democracy, the end of our nationhood, the shattering of Tony Blair's credibility? Get real.

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