Richard North, 01/02/2020  

Possibly the only thing worse than the media not reporting on EU issues is when it does. For want of information, it fills the ether with noise, a cacophony of aimless blather that stuns the senses and overwhelms the mind.

Through the decades of our membership, it has been a struggle to get the role of the EU in our affairs noticed, so much so that "Brussels" became the elephant in the room that no-one talked about. The Lib-Dems once managed to run a whole campaign in the Euro-elections without even mentioning "Europe" in their leaflets.

It was much the same during the last general election campaign when the media took time out from reporting the issues in detail and instead gave an ex-Telegraph columnist a free pass to spout his vacuous nonsense about getting Brexit "done".

Everyone with more than two brain cells was fully aware the slogan was as empty of meaning as the man who uttered it, and that his broad intention to take us through the next stage of the process in a great rush was fraught with danger.

But our craven, venal media chose to stand on the sidelines and do what it does best – turn serious issues into triviality, indulging in the biff-bam of the personality contest while ignoring matters of substance.

Now the day has come – Brexit Day (no one dares to call it B-Day) – the media is full of itself, swamping its print pages with turgid reports and nostalgia. With overwhelming conceit, it deigns to offer simplistic "explainers", telling us what's going to happen next, when at the time it really mattered, the whole damn lot of the media collective was silent.

As they claim the event for their own, though, we can look back and remember the anti-EU meetings in draughty village halls and grubby pub meeting rooms, sometimes driving hundreds of miles to address audiences in their twenties and thirties, when even the local press didn't want to know.

Over the years – the decades – mere hundreds of us addressed thousands, and in total hundreds of thousands. Between us, we produced and delivered millions of leaflets, fighting by-elections and then general elections, where the rewards were often a derisory hundred or so votes for each candidate.

My first by-election fight for Ukip, under the leadership of Alan Sked, was in Wirral South in early 1997. I managed to get 410 votes, most of the time campaigning on my own with no support at all.

By then, a new force was emerging: Jimmy Goldsmith and his Referendum Party, in which he was reputed to have invested £22 million of his own money. But, when he held a vast meeting in Alexander Palace, with 10,000 attending, the Telegraph, brimming with its own self-importance right now, sent its restaurant critic to cover the event.

In the 1997 election campaign, local worthies sought to exclude Referendum Party candidates from hustings meetings, on the grounds that we were a "single issue" party.

Just before polling day, Goldsmith flew by helicopter up to East Midlands Airport with Booker, and thence to Swadlincote in what was then Edwina Currie's constituency. He addressed the largest constituency meeting of the campaign, with over 400 people crammed into the sports hall. Not even the local media covered it.

Despite a moderately good showing in the polls – I took 2,491 votes in South Derbyshire, aided by a superb team - it was not a breakthrough. But that had already been made. Goldsmith – then suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer (the same disease which was to fell Booker) – had extracted a promise from Blair that there would be a referendum before any attempt was made to join the single currency.

It was that single act which turned the tide – the el Alamein of Euroscepticism – stopping the biggest single act of European integration in its tracks as far as the UK was concerned. Furthermore, it lodged the idea of another referendum firmly on the political agenda.

That campaign paved the way for Farage's modest victory in the 1999 Euro-elections, when he, with Michael Holmes as leader and Jeffrey Titford, managed to win seats as Ukip MEPs. In typical fashion, the party dissipated its victory by indulging in fratricidal infighting which nearly brought it down. This is something that was to be repeated at regular intervals.

But this was the time of the Santer Commission. Embroiled in allegations of corruption, it was forced to resign en masse, providing a boost to the UK anti-EU campaign from which it never looked back.

It was the heady days of the early nineties, through to the turn of the century, which created the foundations for a successful movement. It galvanised opposition to the EU's hubris in deciding that we all needed a "constitution for Europe", and provided the focus for the outrage when the rejected product was converted into the Lisbon Treaty. The call then for a referendum, promised by Blair and then Cameron, brought us directly to the point where a referendum could no longer be denied and, today, where we are no longer members of the European Union.

While the latter-day saints and the Johnny-come-latelies posture and preen, and success has a thousand fathers – with as many self-appointed "experts" who have sprung out of the woodwork to cheer it on - it was the early days that made the difference, the anonymous "unsung heroes" who made it happen.

No one owns Brexit, least of all Farage or Vote Leave. This was an endeavour by the people all across the nation, who kept the flame of opposition alive when it was unfashionable and largely ignored.

Most of the figures dominating the stage at the moment were nowhere to be seen then, and have little knowledge of the real campaign, when Europhiles were dismissing us as "Xenophobes" and "Little Englanders" and the media was busy with other things.

He who laughs last, however, lasts longest. But the laughter will have to last a long time as the Eurosceptic cause has been hijacked by the Tory right, who have no more idea of democracy than Genghis Khan. Fortified by their unique amalgam of ignorance and arrogance, they have within them the capacity to do more damage than the EU ever did.

Thus, while the buffoon Johnson prattles about the "dawn of a new era", he is simply the ugly face of more insidious forces which would have this country turned into the 51st state of the USA, or an impoverished version of Empire 2.0. We duck the nascent United States of Europe only to be subsumed by another fantasy.

Through the years though, Euroscepticism has been a truly popular movement, shunned in the early days by the establishment. Its grass-roots activists achieved their successes individually and in groups and only partly through Ukip. Long before Farage finally managed to wreck the party, when support was at its highest, it is fair to say that there were more ex-Ukip activists than there were members.

With Farage's commercial enterprise, the Brexit Party, struggling to make two percent in the opinion polls, we're back to the early days of Ukip, a small rump with little power or presence, the "insurgency" destroyed by the overweening ego of Farage and by the devious manoeuvrings of the Tories.

Thus, when we need it most, "people power" is at its weakest. And it now has to confront the real enemy. This is not the European Union but the British establishment which took us in to the EEC without consent, rigged the 1975 referendum to give some sort of spurious legitimacy, and then kept us in until it saw the writing on the wall and changed tack.

As we depart from the EU, the British peoples are no more sovereign than they have ever been. If anything, we are further removed from real power. Parliament – which was never truly representative of the people – has consigned itself to irrelevance and the executive has assumed even more power. We are in danger of replacing the imagined tyranny of Brussels with the real tyranny of an over-powerful executive.

Small wonder then that Johnson is keen to have us to believe that Brexit is "done". He wants the nation to go back to sleep, and is seeking the aid of a compliant, incurious media to distract us. His cronies and backers can then divide up the spoils undisturbed, leaving us truly a vassal state, subservient not to the EU but to our political masters in London – as we always have been.

Thus, today starts a new phase of an old battle, one which the Chartists of 1836 would have recognised, a battle for true democracy, where ordinary people have a say in their own destinies. This isn't about "Europe" – it's about power.

Unfortunately, people are too easily seduced by the trappings of power and just as easily distracted by the trivia that is the staple fare of the media. And, to be blunt, the infantilisation of this nation has left us spiritually and morally weakened. We are barely able to fend for ourselves without the nanny state to pick up the pieces.

Yet, to be an obedient, unthinking cog in a corporate state is not what we have campaigned for. If independence is to mean anything, it is the freedom to decide our own destinies, for good or bad. Brexit day has brought that happy situation no closer but, at least, there can now be no confusion about who (and what) is the real enemy.

That much we've gained. But the show goes on and the singing will never be done.

comments powered by Disqus

Log in

Sign THA

The Many, Not the Few