We must fight hard to contest myths about the EU

Labour Party

The Daily Express provoked anger at the start of this week by wrongly claiming that the EU are attempting to bring in compulsory quotas for female Roma MPs at Westminster. The article quoted Ukip’s London MEP Gerard Batten, who called the supposed plans “politically incorrect nonsense”.

Batten is right – at least in his description of the story as ‘nonsense’. There is no truth whatsoever in the claims. I wrote a letter to the paper explaining this, and suggesting that the story was poorly researched and ideologically motivated.

The paper replied with their ‘evidence’ for the article. This turned out to consist of a single recommendation in a 98 page study by an academic. To portray a bullet-point in an academic piece as an impending edict from Brussels is misleading at best. A disclaimer in the report made it clear that the opinions it expressed did not “represent the official position of the European Parliament”, but this was overlooked.

Moreover, as the European Commission’s Mark English pointed out, the EU’s remit “does not include the power to intervene in how candidates for national elections are nominated.” So even if the EU had wanted traveller quotas for domestic governments, it has absolutely no power to legally enforce them.

In a week which has seen Ed Miliband and his father subjected to savage attacks by The Daily Mail, it was sad to see first hand the way the right-wing and Euro-sceptic press are able to bolster myths about the EU. It makes it all the more important, in the run up to the European Elections in May, that we contest these falsehoods and make a clear, positive argument for Europe.

The media need to get over their Europhobia

Labour Party

I’ve written a blog for Total Politics on the Eurosceptic British press and why I think the public are genuinely interested in what goes on in Brussels. You can read it in full below.

Politicians and specifically MEPs often face derision from the mainstream press, especially the right wing press. So it was hardly surprising to read in The Daily Express that MEPs are the least trusted profession, overtaking that of the more traditionally disliked professions.

The survey was hardly ground breaking and actually doesn’t reflect the experiences I’ve had in 10 years as an MEP – and that’s not because I’ve surrounded myself in Brussels Bureaucracy.

Last weekend was a good example. I was invited to take part in the Sunday Times web chat. It followed the week of the story where four MEPs had been caught taking cash for their services. It was of course disgraceful and I was fully prepared to answer questions relating to this terrible episode.

But to my surprise the chat which ensued couldn’t have been more different in terms of the questions people asked. There was genuine interest in Brussels, in the work we do; in how legislation is made and in what the Brussels machine does.  Most people just wanted to know more, they were intrigued.

There is more interest in European politics than the media gives the general public credit for. Indeed one of the Europe correspondents, who I know well, told me recently how difficult it is for him to get anything past his editors about Brussels. ‘The news editors back home just don’t get it’ he said somewhat dejected.

What I find most curious is the disdain the media seems to perpetuate in this country. Other parts of Europe enjoy fruitful debate. Their media closely follows the work of the Parliament, it understands it and as a result is able to more closely investigate and scrutinise it.  I would welcome the same level of scrutiny in this country.

The truth is the British media seems to be dominated by the likes of Nigel Farage, who comes across as media friendly and provides good TV. The Boris Johnson of Europe I Suppose. How many times has the Labour leader in Europe, or the Conservative for that matter, appeared on Question Time? They haven’t. But Farage who isn’t a member of a mainstream political party in this country receives disproportionate coverage precisely because he’s considered to be so entertaining.

There is one saving grace; BBC Parliament, specifically the Record Europe, covers European politics more seriously than any other outlet in this country and therefore gives a better reflection of what we are really about. I hope this spreads across to other media agencies and the public can get a better reflection of what we are really about. They deserve it after all.

Could the Daily Express be more wrong?

Labour Party

373,000 people have signed a petition saying that they want the U.K. to leave the European Union.  That does seem like quite a lot, but the petition was organised by the Daily Express, which carries a rather triumphalist story involving their political editor and a few MPs delivering the signatures to Number 10.

Let’s leave aside for one moment the arguments against such a move and focus instead on the story itself.  I must take exception with Tory MP, Philip Hollobone, who is quoted in the article as saying:

“Congrat­ulations to the Daily Express for saying so clearly what most of Britain actually feels.”

Now last time I checked 373,000 does not represent a majority of the British voting public.  Given that this was a campaign run by the Express for quite a while, it might be worth pointing out to Mr. Hollobone that it’s well under two-thirds of the Daily Express readership, whose circulation is around 640,000.

Given that, I’m not sure on what authority Mr Hollobone can say anything about “what most of Britain actually feels”.

It isn’t much of a surprise that Daily Express readers are not too fond of the EU, given that particular publications penchant for publishing sensationalist, under researched and often downright wrong information about the European Union.  They are famously one of the most prolific peddlers of the ‘Euromyth‘.

Leaving the EU would be absolutely disastrous for our economy.  At a time when we are looking for ways out of a serious financial crisis, cutting ourselves off from, or at least severely damaging links with, our primary export market seems like wanton madness.  It would also ruin the lives of many British workers currently with jobs through-out the EU and the many people from other member states currently contributing to the UK economy.

I don’t believe this is what most people in the UK want as they are generally a sensible bunch.  It clearly isn’t even what all the Daily Express readers want either.