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How Britain fell

Posted by Richard Saturday, June 04, 2005

Yes, I did watch the BBC2 documentary on "How Britain fell for Europe", by Michael Cockerill. Lightweight, is perhaps the best description, it actual film adding little of substance to what was reproduced in the article in The Independent this morning.

I did, however, enjoy the recantation from a very much older but still Sloaney Caroline de Courcey Iceland, who had played such a central part in the "yes" campaign, now admitting that, if she was asked again about membership of the EU, she would now vote "no". Her and Margaret Thatcher, have a lot in common.

And how instructive that the unreconstructed Marxist, who was then so much against the EEC, is now, in his own words, "a committed Europhile".

Other highlights were the director of the "yes" broadcasts, Justin Cartwright, who admitted that, as a matter of "conscious strategy", we "clearly wanted to frighten"; Paul Johnson's comment on Thatcher: "In those days she knew very little about foreign affairs"; and the admission from McAlpine that the "banks put in very large sums of money" to the "yes" campaign.

I enjoyed Peter Clarke's description of the "no" campaign: "…a shambles – an ichoate network… we had to keep reminding outselves who the enemy was, as we were natural enemies" and, "a tiny group of people with no money… trying to put up a proper case". Nothing changes.

But what was really missing was the pivotal role of Bob Worcester, the MORI pollster who carried out continuous polls, guiding the campaign to concentrate on "bread and butter issues", ignoring the "sovereignty" issue because that did not play well with the voters.

It was his organisation that determined the approval ratings for the main "yes" and "no" campaigners, making sure the media gave most publicity to those of the "yes" side whose approval ratings were highest, and ensuring that the "no" campaigners with the lowest approval rating also got the most coverage. It was not an accident that Tony Benn was seen as the face of the "no" campaign.

In that and many other ways, the campaign was rigged. That could and should have been on the programme but, on balance, there was enough there to demonstrate that, by no means, could the 1975 referendum have been regarded as a fair or accurate reflection of public opinion on such an important matter as staying in the EEC.

If, incidentally, the comments section of the post below, for "the great debate" gets full, continue it here, and I'll pick them all up together.