Open Europe Blog

The UK media has an insatiable appetite for ‘Tories split’ stories on Europe – mainly we suspect because it makes for an attention-grabbing headline – and Douglas Carswell’s defection is Christmas come early for many. True, the defection is a big deal which could have even bigger implications so fair enough.

However, off the back of his move, there are now far less credible stories cropping up. As OE Director Mats Persson argued on his Telegraph blog back in January:

 “There’s a vicious circle at play here. The UK media never seems to get tired of Tory split stories. It only takes a handful of vocal backbench MPs to create a “Tory rebellion” headline. English being the lingua franca, European politicians and commentators read the UK press, drawing the conclusion that, this is really all about a party talking to itself about itself. The many good reform ideas coming out of the UK are dismissed as a matter of “domestic politics” – an image happily (sometimes dishonestly) conveyed by a whole host of special interests, including those who have invested personal prestige in the EU project and seek to maintain the status quo. Cameron, meanwhile, is seen as an unreliable partner, not in control at home. This perception is then fed back to the UK press, as a sign that Cameron is “isolated”, in turn hardening backbench opinion.” 

A prime example is today’s Independent front-page, celebrating that “Up to 100 MPs will call EU exit regardless of concessions won by PM”. So one third of the Tory Parliamentary Party has already made up its mind on the EU? That’s a big claim. Cameron might as well throw in the towel now. It’s an over-cooked story, of course, as is usually the case, quoting exactly the same Tory MPs who have been quoted in stories like this since Magna Carta. The big headline number comes from “other eurosceptics” (hmmmm) who “predicted” that “between 50 and 100 Conservative MPs would make the same pledge” [out of the EU no matter what]. In other words, the number is plucked straight out of thin air.

There will no doubt be pressure on Tory MPs to clarify their position, but to go for “out no matter what” is a whole matter entirely. Still, this story will make it into embassy press clippings around Europe, and will probably also be re-produced in some foreign papers (100 is an impressive and conveniently round number). And voila, it has taken a life of its own. The Independent prides itself on taking “seriously our responsibility to maintain high editorial standards.” Well, we’re not impressed.

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