Saturday, May 08, 2004

We have been here before

The former Secretary for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers, one of the Labour ministers whose fingers had to be prised off his portfolio one by one during a succession of scandals, has reappeared on the political scene. In a speech he has called on the government and the “yes” campaign to put more effort in winning the hearts and minds of the British populace.

"We will need to demonstrate there is a patriotic case for Europe and the new treaty in that Britain and its people would stand to gain from the process," he said, obviously unaware of Dr Johnson’s famous comment about patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Then he added: "The case for Europe is not based on a romantic notion of European unity but it is a hard-headed recognition of how we can advance our national interests in the modern world."

Well, well, how strange. Just a few days before Mr Byers decided to opine, Jeffrey Donaldson, MP for Lagan Valley, and a man who knows a little about advancing national interests gave a speech to the Bruges Group. Among other matters he warned the opponents of the Constitution not to be too complacent. They may have facts, truth and knowledge on their side but that is not always sufficient to win a referendum against unscrupulous forces marshalled by the Government. Here are a few quotes from the speech:

“There are parallels between the way the Government won the referendum on the Belfast Agreement in Northern Ireland and how they will seek to win the referendum on the European constitution…

“The yes campaign in Northern Ireland did not wish to debate the detail of the Belfast Agreement or analyse the consequences of a yes vote. Instead they painted the battle as a simple good versus evil, peace versus war and the future versus the past. This is a convenient way to ignore the difficult issues which are presented by constitutional change.

“I imagine the yes campaign for the constitution will play the same game. The constitution will be sold on the basis of the only sensible approach to take, difficult consequences will be ignored and opponents will be castigated as the enemies of progress. Yes,scare tactics will also be deployed, perhaps with subtlety, but they will form part of the campaign to ‘persuade’ the British people that the proposed constitution is in the national interest. You can hear it now … loss of influence in Europe, damage to our economy, international isolation etc., etc.”

And for those who still felt that the dangers were not all that great, he added:

“Do not underestimate the ability of the Government to sell the unpalatable. In 1998 they were able to persuade the people of Northern Ireland that terrorist prisoners should be released, Sinn Fein/IRA granted automatic places in government, and the police force, the Royal Ulster constabulary, which combated terrorism for thirty years should be disbanded…

Indeed, it was a campaign which was not beyond deploying misinformation and saying whatever it took to win. Claims by the no campaign which have proved to be accurate were dismissed as scaremongering and, instead, the pro-agreement forces made claims which were manifestly inaccurate.”

Couldn’t possibly happen in this country. Oh, woops … it did happen in this country and could happen again.

The full text of Jeffrey Donaldson’s speech will shortly be available on his own website click here and on the Bruges Group website click here.

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