‘The Power of Nightmares’, the groundbreaking 2004 Adam Curtis documentary series in which archive footage was woven together to form a tapestry of terror that illuminated the message of the narrative, dealt with the changes in political sales pitches over the past half-century, from ‘I have a dream’ to ‘I have a nightmare’. As ever, Curtis’s eye-opening dissection of a particular subject lifted the complex veil that those who stand to benefit from it erect to prevent the public from receiving the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In the current climate of in/out EU media mania, the truth is as hard to locate as it ever was. Both sides of the argument claim ownership of the truth, but only one can be telling it. At the moment, I feel as though a twelve-week-long edition of ‘Call My Bluff’ is being serialised on our TV screens every evening; and all that’s missing from the picture is Robert Robinson chairing proceedings with linguistic pomposity.
The in crowd have this week played upon the worst fears of the British public, fears that have been generated by the right via its tabloid mouthpieces, those of marauding migrants breaching Britannia’s borders and embarking upon on orgy of raping, pillaging, benefit-scrounging and terrorist bombing. It’s an easy sell to a public who have been taught to fear foreigners, with the honourable exception of those from China or Russia who have been invited to buy-up large chunks of London at their leisure. The wretched ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais has been the focus of the in crowd’s argument, with David Cameron claiming a Brexit will end cooperation between French and British immigration officials, thus unleashing ‘the swarm’ upon the UK. The PM has paid a visit to President Hollande in the hope Francois will support his scaremongering, and the signs are encouraging for Cameron, if the comments of France’s Economy Minister are anything to go by.
This canny strategy presents the out crowd, especially the likes of Nigel Farage, with something of a dilemma. The crux of the UKIP main man’s argument has always been that EU membership enables the kind of free movement within member states that leaves the UK powerless to prevent an influx of immigrants – presumably including those currently resident in the Jungle – from flooding our shores. According to him, that will be a consequence of continued membership, yet according to Cameron that will be a consequence of an EU exit. It can’t be both, can it?
The two camps realise that trying to sell the positives of remaining or departing alone won’t be enough to capture the attention of a largely apathetic public too bogged-down with domestic concerns to devote their attention to Europe; so, just as during the run-up to a General Election, they have decided to exploit and capitalise upon general fears and worries that they know will garner headlines and put the fear of God into the gullible. Perhaps both parties actually are extolling the benefits of following their respective paths, but I haven’t really noticed; these don’t seem to be receiving the same coverage or gracing the front pages with the same amount of regularity as the guaranteed gut-reaction of a horror story prophesising what will happen if we don’t take their advice.
A contrived letter signed by ‘leading businessmen’ in support of a Tory Government that appeared in the Mail during the last General Election campaign was regarded as a success by the Prime Minister, so a similar letter materialised a couple of weeks ago, this time signed by leading military men lending their support to the in crowd and predicting a Brexit policy would spell doom and gloom for homeland security. The impartiality of the military, who are in theory supposed to serve Her Majesty and maintain an identical vow of silence on political matters, came across as a particularly desperate move by Cameron and his cohorts so early in the campaign, one that didn’t do their cause many favours in the end. It gave the impression that the PM is paranoid that too many Tory big guns are facing him on the other side of the divide, and when they can bolster their numbers with populist rebel orators such as Farage and Galloway, the task to persuade the public to remain in the bosom of Brussels suddenly appears a harder one than it did before he announced the date of the referendum.
In 1975, a fascinating game of ideological chess between Labour Cabinet Ministers Tony Benn and Roy Jenkins was televised on ‘Panorama’ prior to the EEC Referendum, with a young David Dimbleby acting as referee. There was no ‘X-Factor’-style set or a studio audience whooping and cheering, simply a face-to-face private debate that was all the more compelling because of its minimalistic approach. It was akin to a political equivalent of Fischer Vs Spassky. Something similar today would be welcome, and might just aid the voters in judging which way to lean in June. However, modern television sensibilities don’t work like that.
Today we were promised a more showbizzy debate staged at Wembley Arena before an audience of 12,000, something that has echoes of ‘Question Time Live from Wembley Stadium’ on Chris Morris’s ‘The Day Today’ back in the 90s. In what sounds like a cross between the Eurovision Song Contest and ‘Family Fortunes’, a trio of hosts will present the event in the middle of two teams. The provisional line-ups for both are as follows: The in crowd will consist of Osborne, Alan Johnson, Tim Farron and Caroline Lucas, whereas further odd bedfellows representing the out crowd will be Bo-Jo, IDS, Farage and Galloway. No doubt it will be an entertaining spectacle, but will it really influence anyone as to which polling booth they’ll stroll into? Most of us shamelessly watched the first televised Election debate last year merely to see how heated and personal the arguments between the contrasting personalities would be; and I suspect the same will be the case this year.
If this projected debate actually takes place two days before the referendum is scheduled, I wonder if any of the information we’ll have been bombarded and browbeaten by at that point will have made up any minds that weren’t already made up before Cameron even fired the starting pistol. If it has, chances are what made up those minds will probably owe more to headline-grabbing scaremongering than rational arguments being put forward. Welcome to the Jungle indeed.
© The Editor