EU Perspectives

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.




Author :


  1. It is fair to point out that Open Europe described Viviane Reding as “Ukip’s number one recruiting sergeant”. And Open Europe are hardly Ukip supporters.

    The Euro-federalists have done more damage to the European Project than the Daily Mail ever could. Firstly by pushing ahead with the Euro when the conditions for success were not there. And secondly by not clearly distinguishing between freedom of movement and the right to social security benefits

  2. En España,tambien nuestros gobernantes se benefician de la ignorancia,suprimiendo dia a dia la posibilidad de una mayoria de ciudadanos a los estudios mas basicos,al tiempo de hacer proclamas de dignidad y trasparencia,como que cada duda ó enjuiciamiento de uno de sus miembros,es proclamada como “conspiracion de la izquierda radical”.ó manipulacion de la derecha conserbadora ó ultraliberal.La ignorancia hace que una mayoria de los que aplaudieron el “SÍ A LA GUERRA”en el Congreso de Diputados,tres elecciones despues sigan en sus escaños.Que una mayoria de imputados por corrupcion,fueran en las listas electorales y fueran elejidos,muchos de ellos por mayorias absolutas,entre otras muchas lindezas del funcionamiento de nuestro sistema,¡ no democratico ,si no de dictadura voluntaria,dado el funcionamiento de los grandes partidos politicos,por el que la desinformacion brilla como verdad,y la disciplina de voto como exigencia imperativa,amén de la inesistencia del debate de ideas,base de principio de un partido politico,”que se precie de serlo”.La ignorancia y la desinformacion,mantienen aún a miles de ciudadanos como militantes de los partidos,ignorando que es la falsa diferencia ideologica la que les hace permanecer en ellos,ignorando las connivencias,palpables al mas minimo analisis de muchas de las decisiones importantes tomadas en “solitario”para ignorantes,pero en acuerdo verdadero,que los cidadanos no ven.Por ello considero acertado decir,que en politica,la ignorancia hace fuertes a sus dirigentes al permitirles combertir la desinformacion en verdad.

  3. Some more thoughts.

    I agree with you about the low standard of debate about the EU in the UK but having followed the debate since 1975 (and switched sides a couple of times), I think the pro-EU lobby are as much to blame. They have consistently refused to present the project as a political one. From Edward’s Heath’s “A Common Market, no more no less” onwards there has been a desire to avoid presenting the British People with the implications of what their politicians were signing.

    The result has been that various governments won the battles to accept the treaties but they have lost the war for hearts and minds.

  4. It is claimed we are ignorant of how the EU functions, to such an extent indeed that we are unfit to make a decision on membership. Europhiles claim that if only we fully understood how the EU works we would become happy members. Is there to be a test to demonstrate our knowledge in order to permit us a vote? Is this principle to be extended to other spheres of public decision making ? Who will set the questions and judge the answers as satisfactory?

    Please could a reader of this item provide me with some unbiased information. What do the members of the ECB consider and how do they vote when they are determining the interest rate and the various other critical economic policies. I don’t know because the minutes from their meetings are not intended to be published until 30 years after the decision. (The Bank of England produces its minutes after two weeks, and the Fed in the US after 5 years.)

    But at least they do have minutes, COREPER does not and the public have no access to their meetings. So how do any of us know anything about their decision making process and how they decide what to place before the Council ?

    Why are referenda which result in a NO to the EU rerun while when they are YES never rerun ?

    With regards to education, one of my children while in primary school was the recipient of a lesson about the EU. The literature he received was entirely unbalanced without any mention of anything which could be considered even marginally negative. No mention of the cost, no mention of the democratic deficit, no mention of the unbalanced voting weights etc. In the UK we do not allow party politics to enter the classroom, given that the EU is perhaps the single most divisive political issue of our time I certainly don’t want eight year olds receiving such ‘lessons’.

    The Daily Mail is a highly successful commercial enterprise with a deserved reputation for lurid and dubious reporting. The BBC is seen as stolid and largely trustworthy, yet it has repeatedly accepted that it has adopted an uncritical pro EU stance for decades. The Prebble Report of Summer 2013 being the latest example. I assume the pro EU Guardian, Independent, Economist etc are all above criticism being fonts of balanced journalism. If you are going to criticise the Daily Mail, please show balance by doing likewise for the BBC etc.

    Ultimately the problem the pro EU camp has is their history. Perhaps if our leaders and the europhiles had told us exactly what membership of the EEC meant in 1973 and indeed had had any mandate for joining, this debate would not be so rancorous and neither would they have such a reputation for lacking honesty. “Europe’s nations should be guided towards the super-state without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.” Not the ranting of some europhobe, but a quote from Jean Monnet 30th April 1952.

    Finally perhaps the author could simply tell us what Vivian Reding did say and if it was as reported how it could be seen as anything other than offensive and inflammatory ?

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