Hearts and minds

Caroline Flint MP

Returning like the dog in the proverb to the speech last week by new Europe minister Caroline Flint, the conclusion reads:

“My aim is not to make people love the EU – but I do want them to see how it affects their lives and how it can do more to improve their lot. This is the route to change people’s minds about the EU. Their hearts are their own business.”

So if politics can be described as a battle for hearts and minds, then Caroline Flint has given up on half the battle already. But what does it mean for people to love the EU? Should she actually be trying to do this anyway? I have some sympathy with her view that she should not.

This is part of the point about the difference between being pro-European and pro-EU. The EU is an important, pioneering and valuable political institution, but it is the means of achieving political objectives and not the political objective itself. The federalist case cannot be simply dismissed as pro-EU: there is much more to it than that.

Lionel Curtis, in “Economic planning and international order”, published in 1937, captured this distinction perfectly:

“But it may still be questioned whether, at the present stage of history, devotion to the nation, as such, is a very fruitful form of emotion. The feelings associated with patriotism which we regard as good in themselves are not inseparable from particular forms of political organisation. To love the landscape of the Oxford meadows or the fine flexibility of the English tongue, it is not necessary to love the Oxfordshire County Council or the English Board of Education. The sentiment of public service may be best evoked by institutions which are most conducive to human good. To find the ultimate goods of life in particular forms of political machinery, regardless of the suitability of that machinery to promote human happiness, is surely a delusion – a confusion of ends and means, of mechanism and purpose.”

So it is agreed that Caroline Flint is right that people need not love the EU, but I cannot agree that she leaves the political issue there.

Compare it with the fight against racism. Imagine what the reaction would be if government policy were not to eradicate racial prejudice but merely to prevent anyone from acting in a racist manner. Anti-racist education would be scrapped, and laws protecting people from ethnic minorities would be strengthened and enforced instead. Rather than decisively changing the way in which people in this country think about each other, there would be a continual struggle to ensure a decent treatment for the most vulnerable. I don’t think that would be an acceptable approach. The strategy against racism needs to be a strategy to defeat it, not a strategy to accommodate it.

The same is true of the strategy against opposition to the European Union. It will be different in many ways from the strategy against racism, but it cannot simply be a matter of facts to the exclusion of anything more profound.

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