I SEE the Queen has been having a Eurosceptic rant, at least according to the Sun.
“QUEEN BACKS BREXIT” shouts the main headline. Beneath an explanatory label reads: “EU going in the wrong direction, she says.”
Now you don’t have to be long fallen from the tree to suspect this is nonsense. Once glance tells you this story has been cooked up from dubious ingredients bunged into the Murdoch Microwave and with the dial turned to ‘meltdown’.
The story contains nothing to back up that headline; there is no statement of support from the monarch. So perhaps she will be spluttering over her cornflakes this morning (“Bloody hell, Philip – I know one is getting on a bit, but I don’t remember saying that.”)
This story relies on two anonymous sources – that most dubious and yet handy of newspaper devices. With an unnamed source you can print almost anything you like; you can build your headline as high as you wish.
What the Sun has done is to interpret the words of two anonymous sources. So two people who aren’t named, and in theory at least might not even exist, are used as the foundations for this wobbly tale.
One claims to have witnessed the Queen telling former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at a Winsor Castle lunch in 2011 that the EU was “heading in the wrong direction”.
As for the other anonymous tip-off, this refers to a conversation the Queen might or might not have had during a Buckingham Palace reception “a few years ago”. She is alleged to have remarked with “venom and emotion” that she did not understand Europe.
Maybe her Majesty doesn’t understand Europe. That wouldn’t be a surprise, as lots of her subjects don’t either. This isn’t to suggest hostility, unless they are readers of the Daily Express. That newspaper is easily the most Eurosceptic when it comes to the EU referendum and probably considers a holiday in France to be a crime against the British nation.
Perhaps the Queen doesn’t understand Europe in the sense of it all being a bit much to get her brain round, a bit of a puzzle. All you have to do to arrive at that unsurprising possibility is to remove the overheard “venom and emotion” mentioned in the Sun.
You know what it’s like at parties. Things can be misheard or half understood. If our everyday lives were viewed through the tabloid lens, we would discover all sorts of things we never knew we’d said or done. Our overheard opinions would be reflected back at us in blocky headlines; a bit of gossip we couldn’t remember sharing would suddenly be front-page news.
My advice is not to invite anonymous people to your parties, as they cause all the trouble. “Hello, have you met Ann Nonymous? She’s here to overhear everything you say and then misinterpret it for the newspapers in a year or two. Hope you don’t mind…”
The Sun story has stirred the expected denials, with Buckingham Palace insisting the Queen remains “politically neutral”, while Mr Clegg maintains the story is “nonsense” and he has no recollection of the incident.
We all know this story is nonsense, even if it would hardly be a surprise if the resolutely neutral Queen was in secret a reactionary old grump who resented the hold Europe has on our lives (“Look here, Philip, have you seen what it says on the front page of my Daily Express?”).
As for the Sun story, this is a classic piece of wilful misinterpretation, built from the dodgiest of ingredients in the full knowledge that it is nonsense – but committed to newsprint with gusto. A good old-fashioned inky-fingered confidence trick.
I’ve said before that the problem with the Europe debate is that it is conducted in the main by ranting and shouting politicians with violently strong opinions one way or the other. The other difficulty is that the debate is conducted in the pages of newspapers where this sort of thing constitutes news.
Does it matter anymore in these sad days of newspaper decline? Well the EU vote could well be swung by the undecided third of voters, so if they can be swayed in might influence the outcome. But the virulently anti-Europe coverage is probably only shouting to the converted or bellowing at the bigoted.