Is George Orwell’s double-speak “Ignorance is Strength” the favoured policy of the anti-EU campaign in the UK?
Written by Kathleen Garnett
Anti-EU campaigners in the UK have perfected, to a fine art, two policies that strengthens and succours their cause. Firstly, keep the electorate as ignorant as possible of how Brussels functions. Secondly, peddle half-truths and exaggerated facts through a sympathetic, populist media, to nail the argument home. Avowedly anti-EU politicians such as Michael Gove, the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, are well placed to devise policies that ensure continued ignorance of the EU. Editors such as the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, who have made it their mission to withdraw the UK from the EU, control one of the world’s most viewed platforms to promote their cause.
Ignorance is Strength – the politician’s approach
It may be a tad far fetched to suggest that Conservative politicians, currently in power, have constructed a purpose-built strategy around “Ignorance is Strength” but the concept certainly does them no harm and they appear to be in no hurry to modify the fact that most UK voters remain uniformed about the exact happenings in Brussels.
Ignorance feeds their anti-EU message, strengthens their cause and fortifies their objective. The fact that the Conservative Party is more than happy to follow a “let them eat ignorance” approach is best illustrated in their orchestrated policy of slowly strangling the teaching of the EU at both primary and secondary schools. The origins of this approach can be traced back to the mid- 1990’s when Major’s government expressly forbade the European Commission from posting EU info-packages to all schools.
As far as Major’s government was concerned Commission attempts to hand-out EU info-packs to school children was a form of carefully orchestrated propaganda. From the conservative mind-set the EU is a “political” organisation and delicate young ears need to be protected from such smut. Whilst schools are not expressly forbidden from teaching a couple of classes on the EU to their pupils (and many apparently do) they are certainly not encouraged to do so. It caused much ado in the British media last year when Michael Gove decided to drop all mention of the EU for 8 -14 year olds in the core subjects of geography.
Ukip education spokesman Derek Clark said: “The Government should be applauded for removing the EU from geography. It should remain in citizenship courses until we leave the EU – at which point it will only be taught in history, where it belongs.”
The EU is a complicated beast – the result of compromise and negotiation. No simple constitutional document for the EU. No straight-forward decision-making process. No easy to comprehend delineation of powers. All of which, of course, makes the EU easy target practice for its critics. Compare the EU to the Westminster model with its straight down the line three-party political system based on a simple majority.
Why indeed would a busy person in a hurry feel the need to familiarise themselves with the intricate ins and outs of an organisation they have no empathy with? When a politician slams the EU for being an over-inflated bureaucracy, a drain on national resources, an un-stoppable politically motivated apparatus, it is all too easy to believe. Some of this may be – probably is – a fair criticism of the EU – but it is not necessarily informed criticism.
If the Commission is a propaganda machine, as its detractors accuse it of being, it is doing a pretty lousy job. Most people across the EU remain ignorant as well as indifferent of how it functions and what exactly its objectives are. Whilst the average busy person in a hurry is not going to spend a lot of spare, hobby-time on familiarising themselves with the EU, the next generation with an interest in geography and history should be informed about the world they find themselves in. And that world – whether the UK stays in or out – includes the European Union.
Misinformation is Better – the media approach
No one would expect the tabloid, gutter-press, to play the role of informing their readers on how Brussels works, what its objectives are, how it functions. What readers do have a right to expect is accurate reporting. Instead they are fed exaggerated tales based on half-truths propped up by adjectives that adorn a story like an ornate baroque alter-piece, rather than the plain reporting of facts. Nor is the gutter-press alone in this approach. The Times of London and The Telegraph are equally guilty of pushing frothy Commentaries with ill-informed content that panders to reader’s prejudices rather than offering them informed, well researched pieces allowing the reader to form their own conclusions.
The fact that the British media have been misleading readers is recorded fact. The Leveson Enquiry into media standards noted,
“….there is certainly clear evidence of misreporting on European issues. ….a Daily Mail story claiming that “the EU” was going to ban grocers from selling eggs by the dozen, followed by a story that there had been a U-turn and the ban would no longer take place. The reality is that there had never been a ban proposed and the original story was based on a deliberate or careless misinterpretation of EU proposals (italics added).”
No where is this point better illustrated than in today’s well positioned headline found on the top page of mailonline, next to a piece questioning Kim Karadashin’s choice of figure-hugging outfit,: “Britons ‘too ignorant’ for EU referendum: Top official says debate on Europe is so distorted that people could not make an ‘informed decision”. Vivian Reding, according the Mail, wasn’t holding a debate with 400 voters in London on the future of the EU. Rather, she was in London to “boast” and to “rubbish” UK citizens as an ignorant bunch of idiots. Needless to say the headline had the desired effect and created “outrage” amongst readers. The “best” rated comment coming from “Andrew” in “Broken Britain” who fumed, “How DARE she say something like this! The true face of the EU, a vile ‘ignorant’ one at that.”
The anti-EU politicians are correct to assume that the more ignorant the electorate remain about the EU the better it is for their anti-EU message. But who, one wonders, in the face of such populist media-frenzy is capable of stopping the double-speak and force a bit of plain-speak in the UK?
The reader who has so far notched up the “worst” rating on the Reding piece is “Thappers” from Bristol,
“Reding’s absolutely right. You only have to look at the comments on these very pages. Empty vessels bellowing hard and their confused minds seething with inchoate rage about something they don’t understand, and don’t want to understand. A referendum depends on an informed public and that is something we do not have.”
Dacre and his ilk are doing their work well. The day the UK votes to leave the EU Paul Dacre and Gove will, no doubt, retire to estates in the sunshine leaving the vast majority in the UK proudly independent, 100% sovereign – and utterly irrelevant and isolated on their island state.