Brian Monteith: Tread warily in media minefield

The Queen talks to Nick Clegg in 2011. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
The Queen talks to Nick Clegg in 2011. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
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THE EU referendum got serious this week when the Queen was dragged into the debate. She hadn’t said anything of course, well certainly not openly.

The Sun alleged Her Majesty had told the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, during a private meeting witnessed by others that the European Union was heading in the wrong direction. This, together with another apparent private aside to a Conservative MP, was enough to get the newspaper splashing its front page with the story.

Denials and complaints by Palace aides – seeking to protect the Head of State’s impartiality – were to be expected. Denials and complaints by Nick Clegg – possibly the least trusted MP in British politics – were to be expected. All good clean fun, nobody was killed, and the monarchy has survived – but is it true?

Just a few weeks ago there was a similar story in the Daily Telegraph when it alleged that Prince William supported membership of the EU. He hadn’t said any such thing of course, well certainly not openly.

The Prince had been speaking to fledgling members of the diplomatic corps and had said how important international partnerships with various organisations were for our future peace and prosperity. This was suddenly interpreted to mean that he was endorsing the UK’s membership of the EU on the basis that it is an international institution.

What was striking was that the Prince had listed some organisations as examples of international partnership; there was the United Nations and Nato, but the EU was noticeable by its absence. All good clean fun, again nobody was killed, and the monarchy carried on – but is it true?

The newspaper could, had it chosen to, written the complete reverse of its claim about his views – “Prince snubs EU in support for Brexit” –and it would have been just as dubious.

The point is that we still have more than three months of the referendum campaign to go and opportunities to have front page headlines that sell newspapers will be a regular feature as the media tries to keep readers interested. The danger of boredom during referendums and election campaigns is ever present.

I can therefore predict with some confidence there will be similar shocking headlines to come. Do not be surprised if you read “Vickies to EU, says Philip” while out walking a Corgi or “No more foreign holidays” says Richard Branson from his private island, while Andy Murray might text “Game, set and match to Brexit” on eve of the poll? And if it looks like we are about to tell the Brussels bureaucrats where to stuff their directives we can also expect a last-minute visit to our shores by Frau Merkel, Monsieur Hollande and el Presidente Juncker as they deliver a “Vow” to start being nice to us and offering us a few sweetners – paid for by our own £19 billion of UK taxes we give them every year.

None of this matters, of course. I have no doubt the rest of the monarchy have their own views, but whatever they are they will not influence people that have not already made their minds up.

Celebrities, whether they have blue blood or green ink coursing through their veins count for very, very little. All they do is help people feel they are not alone in voting a certain way.

Far more important are people who say unexpected things, people who surprise us for exclaiming a view contrary to what might be expected.

So when David Owen – former Labour Foreign Secretary and an undoubted champion of peaceful partnership and a fully-signed up Europhile – announces that the EU is travelling in the wrong direction contrary to our nation’s interests we should sit up and take notice What’s in it for him? He already has a peerage, being retired he has no political future. He is expressing a carefully considered view.

Or when Digby Jones – former Director General of the CBI, a thoroughly Europhile organisation – announces that being outside the EU will be better for UK businesses and our long-term prosperity we should ask what’s in it for him? He was made a government minister by Gordon Brown and already has a peerage?

And when Jim Sillars – who famously coined the phrase “Independence in Europe” for the SNP – says that Scotland’s interests are better outside the EU, we have to ask “why”, for he no longer seeks elected office? Guess what, he thinks the EU has taken the wrong direction since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that reduced democratic rights of EU nations and their citizens. Wrong direction? Heard that before? Could Her Majesty the Queen have been reading Jim Sillars’ pamphlets? Now there’s a front page headline.

Please don’t let this misery happen again

This Sunday I’ll be at Hampden to cheer on the Hibees after a very early rise to catch a flight from Toulouse.

At least it’s not as far as the time I flew from Botswana for that fateful cup final with the Hearts – and then had to go all the way back again.

Cuba desperate to come in from the cold at last

INTERNATIONAL travel undoubtedly broadens the mind.

I’m just back from a week visiting Cuba before it eventually becomes capitalist and to inhale the Cohiba Cigar 50th anniversary.

The poverty there is immense but the spirit to improve is boundless. The country badly needs investment and ironically it will be the dollars of American tourists that will provide it.

It is President Obama’s sole foreign policy success.