Wednesday, March 07, 2007

What the papers say

We have already taken two bite-sized chunks out of the Boy King's Brussels extravaganza, an exercise, you will recall, was billed by The Times on Monday as "one of his most important speeches since becoming Tory leader".

On the morning after, though, we thought it a good idea to look at how the media had handled the event, having been slightly encouraged by the way The Sun had flagged it up as, "Cam's EU Turn".

It was too good to last. The paper does return to the event, but with a headline (above left) which must have had Team Cameron purring. In telling the story that the Boy had vowed to wrest control of "employment and welfare" back from the EU, this conveys exactly the message that must have been wanted.

That much, of course, goes to show that The Sun isn't really a newspaper – more of a current affairs comic – as it fails completely even to consider whether the Boy can deliver on his promise.

The Telegraph by contrast, seems to ignore the speech altogether. Presumably, having opening its pages to the glorious "puff" yesterday, the editors must have felt that they had done their duty by the Conservative Party, and moved on to pastures fresh. Analysis is clearly not on the agenda, so the Boy's empty promises stand unchallenged in this quarter.

I am beginning to warm to the newly-designed Times website which, together with the print edition, does offer something of a critical overview of the speech, but only in the context of the Tories being unable to attract any support for their "new approach" to the EU, other than the Czechs, who also happen to disagree with the Boy’s greenie stance.

As an aside, his green mantra may yet prove his biggest mistake of all – all the signs are that the bubble is about to burst, leaving the nation highly receptive to a more rational approach to environmental and related issues. But the Boy has already nailed his colours to the wrong mast.

Anyhow, back to The Times. With more fortitude than we have been able to display, they have done a better job of describing the speech (there is only so much mere mortals can take). So, unlike us, the paper flags up the plan to set up a "commission" to explore how the acquis communautaire can be challenged and "the principle that powers could be returned to members could be enshrined as a central element of the EU's legal architecture."

It is this sort of fundamental dishonesty that one would like to see challenged by the media – but not a bit of it. You do not need a commission to tell you how to go about this task. All you need to do is go through the treaties, making the necessary amendments to allow for this to happen. But the Boy must know that the most sacred precept of the EU is the inviolability of the acquis and the chances of any changes being made here are exactly nil.

Therefore, he offers the illusion of action, through an ersatz "commission", sufficient to grab headlines from a somnambulant media and enough to convince the gullible and uncaring that Dave is doing something about "Europe". Smoke and mirrors does not even begin to capture the essence of what can only be a studied deception.

The Daily Mail which one might have thought would be fairly critical (who am I trying to kid?), actually did the story yesterday, offering a "straight bat" report, which again must have pleased Team Cameron, even if it left one commenter to the website distinctly underwhelmed as he noted, "this must be the weakest speech on record".

There are further references to the speech in today's edition, tied in with a story about the German ambassador and the constitution (sounds like a bad joke). But more interesting is the flood of comments (53 at last count) which seem to indicate that the readers are far ahead of the journos in their analyses, leaving the politicians standing.

One wonders whether the Boy's gifted staff actually read the comments, for they would indicate that the ploy is not really working. Too many people have been there before, and can see through the shallow devices on which the politicians still rely.

We looked at the Guardian yesterday, so we can leave the old media with a sideways glance at The Independent. Strangely, in its short piece, it seems to have understood what is going on. "David Cameron has softened the Conservative Party's Eurosceptic rhetoric…," it writes. "…the Tory leader adopted a different tone to his predecessors but offered little prospect of policy changes." It didn't say it, but the message is clear: style but no substance.

Looking then at the blogs, or the "new media" as some like to call themselves, we see a strange vacuum in Conservative Home, the site having previewed the speech on Monday, but not followed through. Perhaps the vacuity and deception is too much for Team Montgomerie to handle. On the other hand, England Expects has not yet added to its report of yesterday and you will search in vain for any comment on the speech from Iain Dale.

Other Tory sites seem to have played it low key as well, except for the egregious Mr Hannan who, unbelievably, seems to think (if that is the right word for it) that the Boy, "appears to have pulled off that rarest of political feats: he has made a modest proposal sound every bit as reasonable as it really is."

Making it sound "reasonable" was, of course, the intention. But the idea is not actually to discuss the European Union in any sensible or honest way - simply to make a pitch that does not frighten the horses, giving the impression that something is being done, so that he can move on to safer territory.

Reasonable the Boy's proposal was not. Dishonest and self-serving it most certainly was. As for Hannan - he has to live with his own conscience. One presumes he has one.

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