Long life

The first real gaffe of the EU referendum? It’s from Charles Moore

4 June 2016

9:00 AM

4 June 2016

9:00 AM

It was a famous American editor and columnist Michael Kinsley who once defined the political ‘gaffe’ as something that occurs when a politician tells the truth; and he was right, for it is usually the case that a person gets into most trouble when he publicly says what he actually believes. There were a couple of examples just the other day — one when the Queen said that Chinese officials had been ‘very rude’ to a British ambassador during a visit to London, and the other, even more embarrassing, when David Cameron described Nigeria and Afghanistan as ‘fantastically corrupt countries’. They had both been overheard while chatting with guests at a Buckingham Palace garden party and were the most recent victims of a now frequent danger facing public figures — the forgotten camera or mistakenly left-on microphone. It was one such that so damaged Gordon Brown during the 2010 general election when it picked him up describing an amiable elderly voter in Rochdale as a ‘bigoted woman’.

Such gaffes are, of course, seldom committed on purpose. Politicians don’t look for trouble. But gaffes can come from anywhere. An especially delightful one occurred during President Bush’s visit to Japan for a G8 summit in 2008. A press pack handed out by the White House to correspondents travelling with Bush contained potted biographies of the other world leaders he would meet there; and the one for the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, called him ‘one of the most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for governmental corruption and vice’ and ‘a political dilettante who gained office only through his considerable influence on the national media’ — all this about a statesman who had been an unswerving supporter of Bush over Iraq. This particular truth-telling had been nothing more than lazy incompetence by White House staff, who had simply copied Berlusconi’s profile from a website called ‘the Encyclopaedia of World Biography’.


So far, however, the EU referendum campaign has been mercifully spared all gaffes, for all involved in the debate have been very careful to avoid the truth. Indeed, they have so doggedly stuck to lies that they have been condemned by the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee for peddling ‘misleading’ figures and ‘implausible assumptions’. ‘What we really need is an end to the arms race of ever more lurid claims and counter-claims made by both sides,’ says Andrew Tyrie, the committee chairman.

The claims range from a long recession, massive unemployment and a slump in house prices, by the government, to a huge rise of immigration, despoliation of the English countryside and a vast increase of terrorism, by the Brexit people. What nobody on either side will confess is that he doesn’t actually know what the consequences of Britain leaving the European Union would mean. Boris Johnson was said to have suffered long, anguished indecision about whether to join the Remain or Leave campaign. How, then, can he now be certain that to remain in the EU would be for Britain an unmitigated disaster? He doesn’t seem plausible when he says so.

The biggest gaffe for anyone, however, would be to admit that he doesn’t know what Brexit would mean. It would only confuse and irritate the electorate. It would also undermine Brexit’s case, which is difficult to make as it is. The Remainers have to their advantage that they are advocating the status quo. To add threats of doom to Brexit can only help them. Priti Patel may be right to accuse the Prime Minister and his allies of ‘concocting Armageddon scenarios’, but it’s still a sensible policy. Scaremongering is his best chance of winning the referendum.

As for Brexit, Charles Moore put the only real reason for it in his Daily Telegraph column last Monday: it was to choose freedom from the shackles of Brussels. ‘If you like the sense of being distantly ruled by people over whom you have no power, vote Remain!’ he wrote. The question is how many people really feel like that. It is even to what extent we actually are ruled in such a way. The outcome will give the answer to that first question. But Charles may at last have committed what Kinsley would have called a gaffe.

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Show comments
  • stuartMilan

    Berlusconi was a statesman? who knew…

    • evad666

      Tuscan Tony ?

      • MartinC

        Polly “I’d rather be in my 2nd home in Tuscany” Toynbee?

        • Norton Folgate

          On the subject of Polly and her impeccable socialist standards… http://bit.ly/1s0BZLt

        • Sanctimony

          On her back, legs akimbo, screeching, ‘let me have it, Luigi….’

    • Mark

      He may not have been a statesman, but he was at least elected by Italians, which is more than we can say for his immediate successor – an EU place-man.

  • PetaJ

    If one is looking for truth then the wrong question is being asked in the referendum. The honest question would be: The EU will, eventually implode. Do you want to be in or out when it does?

  • evad666

    I for one particularly enjoyed the following:-
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/10967168/Jean-Claude-Junckers-most-outrageous-political-quotations.html
    Lets Vote Brexit and encourage a thousand flowers of freedom to Bloom.

    • jeffersonian

      Good link – it also reminded me how much I prefer the DTs previous look.

  • Fudsdad

    Why has no-one in the Brexit camp called out Dodgy Dave for even allowing a referendum on EU membership when he “believes” that an out vote will have such dire consequences not least for national security?

    • John Carins

      Dodgy Dave operates on “a week is a long time in politics”. He had probably calculated that the promise of a referendum would not have to be expedited. Your post though goes to the heart of the matter:dodgy Dave has no convictions or principles, he is not to be trusted.

      • anonuk

        He was banking on another coalition, maybe with a severely weakened Clegg, or even with Miliband. “Well, we took some tough choices and had to drop the whole idea of an in-out referendum.” His promise had all the candour of Clegg’s promises to the students.

        He’s no happier in the Tory coalition than he would have been in coalition with the NuLab part of the Labour party. There’s no place for an heir to Blair in post-Blairite politics.

  • jeffersonian

    ‘The Remainers have to their advantage that they are advocating the status quo.’

    Nice little half-truth there. The only problem is that the ‘status quo’ is not static. With the EU’s nutty drive for ‘ever closer union’, or the continuous euro-crises, or the Muslim invasion – sorry the migration crisis, the status quo is constantly changing, and not for the better.

    But of course Remainiacs won’t ever tell you this.

    • Aberrant_Apostrophe

      I’m surprised no journalist has brought up that question – yet.

      • Jack Rocks

        It’s not really surprising. The greater part of our media is fantastically dim. There are bright spots here and there of course.

        • Malcolm Stevas

          “News” reporting is largely about entertainment, and the promotion of what might be thought of as emotional onanism among the audience.

          • Malcolm Knott

            Newspapers have been in sad decline for many years. The Sunday Times, which blew the lid on Thalidomide and the Telegraph which blew the lid on MPs expenses now mostly run articles about knickers and bras.

    • John Carins

      The remainers need to forced to tell the truth about all the aspects of ever closer union and our inability to do anything about it. The reason that they deceive and patronise the public is that they know that the truth would destroy their campaign to keep us in this awful arrangement.

    • John

      The direction of travel of the EU in coming years is no more predictable than Brexit – except that we HAVE been sovereign and independent before , so we have a fairly good idea of what being unshackled from the EU may look like.

      • WFB56

        Not true, it is entirely straightforward to forecast “ever greater union” as this is the stated and demonstrated goal of the EU.

        • John

          Yes you’re right.Those thinking about voting Remain might want to consider the following quote on the plaque on the wall of the EU Visitors’ Centre in Brussels.

          “National sovereignty is the root cause of most of the evils of our time. The only final remedy for this supreme and catastrophic evil is a federal union of the peoples.”

          • WFB56

            Well noted, too bad that so many people choose to ignore the stated goals of the EU; Cameron and Osborne being prime examples of this.

  • A.Alexander

    Brexit and British deputies` hate of Trump have the signs of truthful reaction: the national instinct,expressed by Orwell tells the nation: stop international socialism.

  • Freddythreepwood

    ‘It is even to what extent we actually are ruled in such a way.’

    Is it not the case that Parliament is fully subservient to EU law, made by people we don’t elect and cannot reject? A rhetorical question of course, but the answer is extent enough for me.

  • carl jacobs

    Micheal Kinsley famous? Since when?

  • Sean L

    That’s simply not true, the EU has never remained the same. Consider what it is now compared with what it was when people last voted in a referendum. The idea of people living in Lithuania or Poland, for example, having right of residency in the UK would have been inconceivable to those voters. There is no status quo where the “EU” is concerned, which was then known as the “Common Market”, and never has been. Surprised to see a journalist of such standing and maturity coming out with such tripe, which he must know to be false having lived through it. Indeed, I doubt if there’s a single aspect of “Europe” or the “EEC” that has remained the same.

    • davidofkent

      ‘The idea of people living in Lithuania or Poland, for example, having right of residency in the UK would have been inconceivable to those voters’

      True, because they were all safely tucked up behind ‘The Iron Curtain’. Who actually expected the ‘Evil Empire’ to collapse so quickly? Who then thought that the USA would fund ex-KGB officers to steal their country’s assets? A lot of things have changed since 1975 and not much for the better.

      • Sean L

        You are surely right – I doubt if anyone’s ever argued otherwise.

  • William Brown

    There is no status quo on the 24th June – leave, or remain.

  • JewishKuffar

    The EU is an institution based on a lie (only a trading agreement, no loss of national sovereignty) and sustained by fear.
    Vote Leave and by our example give others the courage to do the same!

  • NickG

    What a trite article.

  • BobH2003

    “What nobody on either side will confess is that he doesn’t actually know what the consequences of Britain leaving the European Union would mean.”

    Nobody knows what the consequences of REMAINING are, the Commission frequently digging up the most ludicrous of futures for the member nations. There being no escape from their stupidity if we remain under their dominion. At least when our own politicians do stoopid, we can chuck them out within 5 years.

    “The Remainers have to their advantage that they are advocating the status quo.”

    “Again, the use of the words “STATUS QUO” is nonsensical when it comes to the EU. Merkel threw that “status quo” to the wind when she invited the rest of the world into the EU, and obliged the other members to aid and abet her idiocy.

  • BobH2003

    We were sold the “STATUS QUO” of a trading market when we joined. So much for “status quo”, its a constantly moving variable.

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