Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Beeb strikes again

Ever so helpful the Beeb is offering on its website a jolly little Q&A guide on the EU referendum. At pains to be neutral, it still manages to make a something of a "Horlicks" of the answers.

For instance, it poses the question, "What is the European Union constitution?", to which it offers the anodyne answer: "It is essentially a rule book setting out what the EU can and cannot do. It sets down in writing the EU's values and political objectives."

Sounds fluffy enough, except a constitution is a document which sets out the powers and structures of an organisation. This one defines inter alia the powers and responsibilities of the institutions of the European Union, those of the member states and even of "citizens". That is much more than a "rule book", especially as it adds substantially to the powers of the EU.

Asking, "What is it for?", the Beeb then offers the answer:

The constitution is designed to streamline decision-making in the enlarged EU of 25 states. For example, it lowers the size of the majority needed for most decisions in the European Council, and cuts the number of areas where a unanimous vote is required. But it also opens the way to deeper EU integration and greater centralisation of decision-making. Opponents argue it will effectively turn the Union into a country in all but name, with is own flag, parliament, civil service, anthem, supreme court and president.
That, actually, is fair enough, except I could always take exception to the word "streamline". There is nothing streamlined about the EU. It has the aerodynamic qualities of a brick.

We then get: "Who supports it?" It would be too much to hope for a nice robust answer like "the self-serving political élites of Europe", but one can always live in hope. What the Beeb actually says is:

Tony Blair will lead the campaign for a yes vote, with the rest of the Labour front bench playing a prominent role. Mr Blair is a relatively recent convert to the idea of a constitution, previously preferring to talk about a "charter of competencies". He now argues the constitution is in Britain's interest and claims to have secured a good deal in treaty negotiations, protecting the UK's vetoes on economic policy, defence and foreign affairs.

Mr Blair is likely to share a platform with Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy and his front bench team - all passionate advocates of closer EU integration. Britain in Europe, the pro-EU lobby group backed by some of Britain's biggest companies including BT, Unilever and Ford, is also likely to be involved. Newspapers including The Daily Mirror, The Independent and The Guardian, are also expected to back a yes vote.
To get the balance, there is then the question: "Who is against it?" The "fors" get 145 words, and the "against" get 131 – close enough I guess. We are told:

The Conservatives want to see limits set to the EU's power, and are not in favour of a constitution. Instead they want a new treaty that would shift some powers back to nation states. The UK Independence Party, which wants British withdrawal from the EU, the Green Party and the anti-war Respect coalition, also back a no vote.

Up to 70 backbench Labour MPs, under the banner Labour against a Super State, are also likely join the no campaign. Vote No, a group backed by business leaders including Wetherspoons pub boss Tim Martin, Dixons chairman Lord Kalms and Sir Anthony Bamford, of engineering group JCB, will also be a leading voice. The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph are among the newspapers expected to throw their weight behind a no vote.
And what happens if the UK votes no? Aahh…

The constitution can only be adopted by the EU if it is ratified by every member country. Tony Blair has said he would respect a no vote - and he has ruled out holding repeated referendums until he gets the answer he wants. But he has also argued that a no vote would amount to British withdrawal from the EU.

The Tories say there is nothing to prevent the EU continuing without a constitution. The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said a UK no vote would not exclude Britain from the "European family".
Not a totally abysmal resumé. If it could get anywhere near that degree of objectivity in its broadcast output, we might be less included to curse every time we hear the initials BBC mentioned. As it was, the PM programme took the opportunity of the announcement of the referendum question to award Peter Mandelson a huge party political broadcast this evening, with not a contrary voice to be heard.

Well done the Beeb.

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