George Orwell’s seminal work, 1984, is robust in its grinding misery. Relentless in its vision of a society bereft of any hope. What a pleasure and delight, once finished, to toss the book aside and return to the reality of a more care-free existence. For most readers, no doubt, elements of the book re-play in the mind long after it has grown dusty on the book-shelf.
None more so than Orwell’s “double-speak” and Big Brother’s slogans to be found on letter-heads, posters, newspapers: War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom, Ignorance is Strength. In Winston’s world it is not knowledge that equates to power but ignorance.
Is this the approach adopted by the UK’s anti-EU campaign?
As far fetched as this may sound it is worth considering. Ignorance feeds their anti-EU message, strengthens their cause and fortifies their objective.
The fact that the Conservative Party is more than happy to follow a “let them eat ignorance” approach is best illustrated in their orchestrated policy of slowly strangling the teaching of the EU at both primary and secondary schools. The origins of this approach can be traced back to the mid- 1990’s when Major’s government expressly forbade the European Commission from posting EU info-packages to all schools.
As far as Major’s government was concerned Commission attempts to hand-out EU info-packs to school children was a form of carefully orchestrated propaganda. From the conservative mind-set the EU is a “political” organisation and delicate young ears need to be protected from such smut.
Whilst schools are not expressly forbidden from teaching a couple of classes on the EU to their pupils (and many apparently do) they are certainly not encouraged to do so. It caused much ado in the British media recently when Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, decided to drop all mention of the EU for 8 -14 year olds in the core subjects of geography. The history curriculum has been over-hauled to focus more on “Britain’s influence on the world” rather than “how the world has influenced Britain.”
Ukip education spokesman Derek Clark said: “The Government should be applauded for removing the EU from geography. It should remain in citizenship courses until we leave the EU – at which point it will only be taught in history, where it belongs.”
The EU is a complicated beast – the result of compromise and negotiation. No simple constitutional document for the EU. No straight-forward decision-making process. No easy to comprehend delineation of powers. Compare this to the Westminster model with its straight down the line three-party political system based on a simple majority.
Why indeed would a busy person in a hurry feel the need to familiarise themselves with the intricate ins and outs of an organisation they have no empathy with? When a politician slams the EU for being an over-inflated bureaucracy, a drain on national resources, an un-stoppable politically motivated apparatus, it is all too easy to believe. Some of this may be – probably is – a fair criticism of the EU – but it is not necessarily informed criticism.
The accusation that the EU has a propaganda machine that Goebbels would be proud of is not new and elicits some sympathy. It is true that the European Commission has a very large “Communication” budget, a whole Directorate General and Commissioner dedicated to this task and spends considerable funds on trying to promote itself.
If it is a propaganda machine, however, it is doing a pretty lousy job.
Most people across the EU remain ignorant as well as indifferent of how it functions and what exactly its objectives are. Whilst the average busy person in a hurry is not going to spend a lot of spare, hobby-time on familiarising themselves with the EU, the next generation with an interest in geography and history should be informed about the world they find themselves in. And that world – whether the UK stays in or out – includes the European Union.
Michael Gove and his Ukip sympathisers may be under the impression that by simply deleting the EU from the school curriculum it will somehow magically disappear from our national consciousness and bother us no more.
They are correct to assume that the more ignorant the electorate about the EU the better it is for their anti-EU message. They are wrong to assume that the EU will bother the UK no more. British governments should face up to their responsibilities and teach the next generation about institutions that can, do and will affect their working lives. To stand-up to the challenges facing the UK it is time to engage, not in double-speak but in plain-speak – knowledge is power and it is knowledge of the system that will guarantee the UK’s interests are well represented.