Singing a poem by a German playwright, set to music by a German composer may seem an odd way to try and convince people to leave the EU. But not if you’re Boris Johnson.
The former Mayor of London and Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip broke into a brief rendition of Schiller’s Ode to Joy today amid an attempt to quash accusations he was a “Little Englander”. At an event organised by Vote Leave, Johnson said:
I am a child of Europe. I am a liberal cosmopolitan and my family is a genetic UN peacekeeping force. I can read novels in French and I can sing the Ode To Joy in German – and if they keep accusing me of being a Little Englander, I will.
Get the news that really mattersSign me up
The predictable calls of “go on, then” sharply followed, at which point this happened:
Boris Johnson just sang Ode to Joy in German during a press conference to prove he's not a Little Englander pic.twitter.com/FgdMT3Bvky
— BuzzFeed UK Politics (@BuzzFeedUKPol) May 9, 2016
While the assembled audience found it rather amusing, his buffoonery masks a calculated political maneuver – as is always the case with Boris. He used today’s platform to launch an attack on David Cameron and the Stay campaign more broadly, albeit with nothing really new to say.
Both camps were out in force promoting their particular arguments, with the Prime Minister kicking off proceedings with a speech and the British Museum.
In a diatribe in which he appeared to want to invoke the wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Cameron proclaimed that:
Our national flag is worn on clothing and t-shirts the world over – not only as a fashion statement, but as a symbol of hope and a beacon for liberal values all around the world. We are the product of our long history – of the decision of our forebears, of the heroism of our parents and grandparents.
He stated that voting to leave would risk “the clock being turned back to an age of competing nationalism in Europe”, and warned:
Can we be so sure that peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt? Is that a risk worth taking? I would never be so rash as to make that assumption. Isolationism has never served this country well.The truth is this: what happens in our neighbourhood matters to Britain. That was true in 1914, in 1940 and in 1989. Or, you could add 1588, 1704 and 1815… And if things go wrong in Europe, let’s not pretend we can be immune from the consequences.
Many papers were briefed on Cameron’s speech last night and seemed to interpret his words as implying we may end up at war if we leave the EU, the Mirror being one such example:
— Mirror Politics (@MirrorPolitics) May 9, 2016
Boris Johnson was quick to pick up on what was trending on Twitter as “Project Fear”, saying:
The second argument we might broadly call the peace-in-Europe argument – that the EU is associated with 70 years of stability, and we need to stay in to prevent German tanks crossing the French border… (is) wholly bogus. Of course there will be some in this country who are rightly troubled by a sense of neighbourly duty. They feel uneasy about pulling out of the EU in its hour of need, when our neighbours are in distress; and at this point they deploy the so-called “Peace in Europe” argument: that if Britain leaves the EU, there will be a return to slaughter on Flanders Fields.
He went on to say that it was Nato that had secured peace in Europe for the past 70 years, not the EU. This appeared to be a direct attack on Cameron and his inklings that the European Union had kept us free from war.
The Prime Minister was also facing an insurgency over the EU debate from Iain Duncan Smith, who launched his own attack today:
An uncertain future beckons if we vote to stay in: a broken border system that has allowed millions of illegal migrants to surge across Europe; British frontiers with the EU wide open; a euro area mired in crisis; Turkey and four other poorer nations set to join the EU, the continued determination to create a superstate.
All of these interventions from Conservative heavyweights appear to demonstrate the same theme. The message seems to be creeping in that the public is becoming increasingly confused and turned-off by the EU referendum – more specifically, by the constant toing-and-froing of claim and counterclaim over economic variables that no-one can safely predict.
There was marked change in language from both sides of the fence – a focus more on emotionally tangible propositions for the consequences of their respective stances, and less on the dizzying economic and fiscal implications of our membership of the EU. With the latest polling sat at 42 percent for Stay, 40 percent for Leave and 18 percent undecided, there is still a lot to play for.
But even so, today’s events prove something else beyond a shadow of a doubt.
That the Conservative battle lines are well and truly drawn over the EU referendum with heavy artillery being fired from both sides. And with just over six weeks to go until the country votes, things will probably only get more bloody and cantankerous.
While the media have been happily focussing on internal warfare within the Labour party, its allegedly ‘disastrous’ showing at the local elections last week and the furore over claims of antisemitism, the Tories continue to implode with little coverage from a forgetful press.
Perhaps the small matter of some alleged irregularities pertaining to election expenses may help jog the media’s memory?
Time will tell.
Apply to be in the audience on BBC’s Question Time.
Support one of the referendum campaigns.
Featured image via screengrab.
Since you're here ...
We know you don't need a lecture. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care.
Now, more than ever, we need your help to challenge the rightwing press and hold power to account. Please help us survive and thrive.