Anti-slavery campaigners were also written off as cranks and gadflies
How do you get a poll to register a large majority in favour of EU membership? Easy. Confine your survey to quangocrats, charity heads, civil servants, CEOs of multi-national corporations and the like. The pro-EU lobby group, British Influence, has been trying to get people excited about its poll of “leading figures” – that is, 700 bien pensantmetropolitans of whom, sure enough, 69 per cent want to stay in the EU. Indeed, the only surprise is that, of a demographic specifically selected for pro-Brussels bias, 31 per cent don’t agree.
Not that I blame British Influence: when every poll of the general population shows an anti-EU majority, you have to clutch at whatever support you can find. Nor am I saying that all, or even most, of the people surveyed are beneficiaries of the Brussels racket. They don’t have to be. When enough NGOs get money from the Commission, even those that don’t tend to be inflected by the Euro-enthusiasm of their peers. When a large number multinationals and megabanks have invested in lobbying to get rules that suit them, other corporates get carried along by the groupthink.
Let’s run over some of the other things that all these “leading figures” have favoured over the years, shall we? State planning, prices and incomes policies, the SDP, the ERM. Almost without exception, the “leading figures” trotted out by British Influence to argue for the EU were, a decade ago, making precisely the same arguments about joining the euro: we’ll lose influence, overseas investment will dry up, blah blah fishcakes. If they were forecasters in the private sector, they’d have been sacked long ago. But because they represent the goody-goody consensus, they can always be sure of a sympathetic hearing from the BBC.
For as long as I can remember, the European debate has involved an element of snobbery. Supporters of the project are not so much pro-EU as anti-Eurosceptic, seeing themselves as defenders of moderate, decent, civilised values against Blimps, oiks and football hooligans. I’ve lost count of how many people in Brussels have said to me, “You know, Hannan, you’re very broadminded for a Eurosceptic”. They mean to be nice, but they reveal their narcissism.
Well, let me be broadminded now. It may be true that the Eurosceptic movement has more than its share of eccentrics. You know what? The same is true of every movement that takes on the orthodoxy. You can’t read history without being struck by how many oddballs and misfits were attracted, in the early stages, to the campaign against slavery, say, or the campaign for a universal franchise. Any movement that challenges the status quo will attract, as well as principled reformers, people who are simply grumpy about life in general. But this doesn’t make them wrong.
The Chartists and the Suffragettes were attacked by their opponents in exactly the same terms as Ukip today: as a bunch of mavericks and obsessives. When the vote was extended to all adults, the moderate men, the sensible men, the men of bottom and judgment, suddenly remembered that they had favoured the idea all along. The same will happen with Brexit. Just watch.