Everyone in the UK knows that of the national daily papers, it’s really only the barely-read (and increasingly unreadable) Guardian (c.311,000 sales per issue) and Independent (c.190,000 sales per issue) who are in favour of the European Union.
The Times (c.595,000) and Sun (c.2,916,000) follow their owner Rupert Murdoch’s eurosceptic lead. The Telegraph (c.833,000) and Mail (c.2,205,000) play to the middle-England, vaguely xenophobic gallery. The People (c.667,000) is also instinctively anti-EU in most of its approaches, most of the time. The Express (c.735,000) does what the Mail does, only with less panache. If you count the similarly unthinking Star (c.667,000) and Sport (c.93,000) as newspapers, they’re also primarily anti-EU on the rare occasions they bother to mention it.
Then there’s the effectively EU-neutral Mirror (c.1,425,000) – which will run anti-EU pieces quite happily, but also take on pro-EU government propaganda just to be different to the Sun – and largely impartial Financial Times (c.130,000).
So, daily – according to those ABC figures – that makes 13,055,000 anti-EU newspaper sales and 1,555,000 EU-neutral sales, compared to just 501,000 pro-EU newspaper sales.
(Chuck web readership on top, the basic split will barely change, as despite the Guardian‘s online popularity, much of GuardianUnlimited’s readership is not UK-based – and the more UK-dominated websites of the other newspapers have seen a huge boom in readership in the last couple of years. In terms of blogs, there’s pretty much only three regularly-updated British pro-EU blogs: this place (which is only loosely pro anyway), Jon Worth and Richard Corbett. Between us, we might manage a dozen posts a week, and a few thousand readers. Meanwhile the anti-EU British blogland consists of dozens of blogs with daily updates, and includes the likes of Tim Worstall and EU Referendum – who between just the two of them often put out a dozen posts a day, generating tens of thousands of visitors a week.)
But, of course, the EU is excruciatingly dull, so EU stories rarely ever make the papers. The only EU stories that sell are “Brussels bans…” or “Meddling bEUreaucrats want to take away your…” scare stories. Because, as with anything, bad news sells. Who’s interested in “Government initiative achieves everything it sets out to achieve”? We all want to hear about the cock-ups and imaginary conspiracies.
So even though the Guardian is mostly pro-EU (it still maintains a few loose ties to the traditionally anti-EU Labour left, after all), it’s very odd that it has decided to devote a leader to praising the EU today.
The timing is, of course, all thanks to the rumbling monster that is the supposedly growing popular support for a referendum on a complex legal document containing some 60,000 words and that can only be fully understood by continued cross-referencing to numerous other complex documents. (Well, the referendum campaign and the fact that we’re still in silly season waiting for parliament to come back from its insanely long summer holiday, so there’s nothing else to fill the paper with, at any rate…)
But it’s still rather odd. Guardian readers are usually of the instinctively pro-EU kind (“Well, it sounds lovely, doesn’t it, Prunella? People of all nationalities coming together to help each other out and stuff?” “Exactly what I was thinking, Quentin. Sod the reality – the idea’s lovely, isn’t it? Now let’s pick up an organic soya milk fair trade frappuccino on our way to the Islington recycling point, shall we?”), and no one else is going to read the thing. Why waste space blathering on about how the EU’s good for Britain?
But, you see, that’s the delight of discussing the EU in a positive light in this country. I remain firmly convinced that most people aren’t actually fully anti-EU, just not remotely interested. Most people aren’t interested in Westminster politics, after all – why the hell would they be interested in what goes on in Brussels? Add to that the sheer complexity of the EU – I’ve been writing about it almost daily for three years, and there’s still large chunks I don’t understand – and little wonder that apathy and lack of knowledge and interest is easily converted to knee-jerk hostility in a country with an overwhelmingly anti-EU public sphere.
So the Guardian‘s leader is utterly pointless, though making some good points. What us rare pro-EU types need to do to win converts is not list the benefits of EU membership or the positive things that the EU has achieved – because such things are both incredibly dull to read and ridiculously easy for anti-EU types to rebuff with sarcasm and humour.
What pro-EU types need to do is find a way of making the EU interesting – because that’s the only way it’s going to start gaining popular support in the UK. But with the current set-up, it is interesting only to hardcore politics geeks and people who like slow train wrecks. Its current set-up is too vast and dull ever to appeal to the masses, and it has also utterly lost the unifying ideal with which it set out fifty years ago. The missed opportunity of the constitution (why not a US-style text full of catchy soundbite ideals? I mean, seriously, why?) is one that no amount of after-the-fact hand-wringing is going to be able to fix.
It’s time for pro-EU types to start looking rationally at the situation, and to realise that the time to win converts to the cause is long past. Anyone who really wants the EU to succeed in the decades to come shouldn’t be defending the current behemoth of overlapping institutions that make up the thing, but attacking it.
The EU doesn’t need a reform treaty, it needs to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch. Start proposing that kind of radical change, with EU citizens involved at every stage of the rebuild, and the next stage of the EU – EU 2.0, if you will – should actually end up with genuine popular support. Without that support as its foundation, it’s only going to crumble.