Thursday, January 20, 2005

Insult to injury

The Financial Times has come up with a scoop. The government, using taxpayers' (i.e., our) money, is hiring a PR agency to extol the virtues of EU membership and explain why the European constitution is a "success for Britain".

A Foreign Office memo, obtained by the FT, reveals that the government is embarking this month on an "extensive communications campaign" on the EU referendum.

As part of the offensive, the FT tells us, it has hired Geronimo PR, a London-based firm which has handled previous government campaigns to increase awareness about the "benefits" of EU membership and the "facts" about the constitutional treaty.

Outlining the brief for the agency, which has been given a £40,000 budget, the Foreign Office asserts that it is to inform the public rather than "persuade" people to vote for the constitution.

The memo goes on to reel off a list of the constitution's merits, calling the treaty a "success for Britain" which will "confirm" the UK's "position of strength in Europe" and enable the enlarged Europe to "work more effectively". Rejecting the constitution, it says, would "jeopardise our position in the EU… weaken Britain's influence in Europe. It would marginalise and isolate us".

Clearly, if the government is under the impression that the EU constitution will enable the enlarged EU to "work more efficiently", (presupposing it has ever worked efficiently) then it has a rather skewed understanding of the word "efficiency" and an even more slender grasp of the meaning of the word "fact".

However, given the general lack of imagination and flair in governmental pro-EU propaganda to date, the greatest risk to which we are exposed – apart from being that little bit poorer – is of being bored to death.

That notwithstanding, £40,000 is actually a relatively modest amount for a government to spend on an "information" campaign. The "Five-a-day Keeps the Doctor Away" nutrition project in Somerset alone was allocated a budget of £106,400.

With it already committed to spending £80 million on administering the referendum, though, this additional spending on pure propaganda is rather adding insult to injury.

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