Crucifix - CC / Flickr
Crucifix - CC / Flickr

It’s not just the Daily Mail at fault for utterly lazy, shit and f**king crap journalism about European Politics. Henry Porter in today’s Observer is horribly, dreadfully, shockingly awful:

When the European Court of Human Rights announces a ban on crucifixes in Italian schools, you can either celebrate the liberal march of secularism or deplore the illiberal attack on religious expression and national tradition.

Perhaps there is a third option which is to say that this has nothing to do with rights and everything to do with the EU’s manic drive to standardise behaviour and attitudes, in the same way as it regulates the transportation of livestock and the safety specifications of new mowers.

The crucifix is none of the EU’s business and, as we celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall this weekend and the miraculous bravery and persistence of the Christian congregation of the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, who sparked the East German revolutions with candles and peace prayers every Monday evening, it is perhaps right to remember that the last Europeans to ban the display of religious symbolism in schools belonged to the communist regimes of the east.

Whatever you think of the merits of the case or not, the European Court of Human Rights is NOT, note IS NOT, part of the European Union. It is the human rights court of the Council of Europe. Henry Porter, thicko journalist, get this into your dumb skull. Yes, I know it might be fun to poke fun at the European Union and standardization, but get your damned facts right!


  1. Ben – apologies. This blog post came at the end of a series of rubbish I dealt with over a week or so back in 2009 where journalists were repeatedly making the same, basic error. I was tired of the rubbish, and angry, and maybe it got the better of me. Henry Porter is indeed a serious commentator – and that’s part of the reason I was so damned angry as I would have expected better!

    And if you think it’s fair game to have a go at me on the basis of one blog entry from 3 years ago, then perhaps also have a look at more of the things I have written about European politics in the meantime – you might also see that I do know what I am on about.

  2. Ben PORTER

    OK, so maybe Henry got his specific facts wrong, but his main point still stands. Please don’t don’t call someone you clearly know nothing about a ‘thicko journalist’. I normally find it is people who need to use swear words in an argument (‘f**ckwit’) who are are ‘lazy’ and ‘dumb’. Also the title to this post seems to suggest that Henry was implying that someone else was being lazy, can’t quite work that one out myself.

    I should also point out that he wasn’t trying to ‘poke fun’ at anyone. Henry Porter is a serious commentator (perhaps you should read more of his articles).

    He especially knows what he is talking about in the final part of the article – he was in Berlin at the fall of the wall. So you might think he is some one who on the whole knows what he is talking about, opposed to someone who can’t put a paragraph together without using obscenities.

    One final thing – the observer is will happily correct itself if you simply write to them and point out any mistake, which would most likely have more benefit than writing a spiteful comment on the Internet?

  3. Come on! I wasn’t trying to drive you from the blog!

    It’s just that your first post in this thread didn’t really have a point except to insult people. Your last post, on the other hand, did have a point, it didn’t insult anyone (and explained your anger) and it was on-topic, so as long as you post more like then I promise not to make snarky comments about the New World Order.

    Now, you say you don’t care what the media says either way, but then you say “the EU is going to have a President representing millions of people and not one of them will have voted for him.” If you mean the position of EU Council President opened up by Lisbon, then this is another classic example of the media getting entirely the wrong end of the stick! There is no such post as “EU President” and Lisbon wouldn’t make one. The Council President will likely be a very boring, chairman role – with very limited powers. Blair will almost certainly not be given the role (France and Germany have withdrawn support).

    If you really have decided never to come back to the blog, then I’m sorry to have driven you away. But you must admit your first post was a tad provocative.

  4. robert

    I always find it intriguing that those who are pushing for referenda on the EU always make excuses when it’s suggested referenda are used more in UK politics for other matters, such as the UK becoming a republic, the voting system, our membership of NATO, greater devolution of power to local authorities, directly elected prime ministers, etc.

    It always seems to be *then* that they bang on about Parliament being the right forum to decide *those* matters rather than consulting the people. Pure hypocrisy.

  5. Notwithstanding my attitude, killing democracy is not an accusation, but a stone-cold fact. The government was elected on a promise to hold a referendum. They did not hold that referendum, because they feared the result, so I see their original promise as a cynical ploy to deny me my democratic voice, until it was too late to stop their agenda. Now they laugh at the tories for promising to renegotiate what is non-negotiable. This makes me angry, and I cannot possibly see anything that the EU does as legitimate. What could I say, had the referendum been held and the people had voted for the treaty? Very little. As it is, I have a righteous indignation against the EU, which has occasionally manifested itself in the comment threads of this blog, due to its pro-EU stance. But I will not bother you in future. I will voluntarily take myself off.

    As for the case in point, I don’t care what the media says either way. It’s inaccurate in both directions, but without any democratic process, what difference does it make? Public opinion may be swayed one way or the other, but so what? The public doesn’t get a chance to express its opinion. The EU is going to have a President representing millions of people and not one of them will have voted for him.

    I’m a libertarian and a nationalist, and I’m under no illusion of speaking for a majority of anyone. If I wanted a political party that endorsed my views, I’d have to start it myself. I am only one man, but in a democratic country at least I have a chance to argue the case one way or another, to call for the repeal a law I oppose, or the institution of a law I support, for more taxes or less taxes, for nationalisation or privatisation, to vote for the people I think will represent my views the best. Now, even this modicum of participation is being removed, replaced by something no more accountable than the Byzantine Empire.


  6. Trooper, you’ve come to Jon’s blog with entirely the wrong attitude. You’re throwing around accusations about people wanting to kill democracy and send you off to re-education camps.

    The point we’ve been discussing here is that media coverage of the EU was, in this case, pretty dreadful.

    You hate the EU, that’s fine. But then you should also be angry at misrepresentation of the EU. If the media reported EU politics more accurately then that could only be a good thing. On this point we should be in agreement. The EU is not the Council of Europe.

  7. The phrase “kill democracy” refers specifically to the refusal of the government in this country to hold the referendum they promised, for the reason that you all know, that the people would most likely have voted against the treaty. It refers generally to the removal of my country’s sovereignty, without which democracy cannot exist.

    “I think Trooper’s point is rather…”

    You’re wrong, actually. My point is to remind you all that there are people who oppose your beloved EU, and even though you think you’ve got it all sewed up with your treaty, you’ve still got a fight on your hands. Your leaders are hated, and if and when you impose Tony Blair upon us, you will be hated even more. I admit that this has little connection to the subject at hand.

    “the case of Trooper, between reality and some hysterical right-wing fantasy”

    ‘Hysterical’ I’ll accept, because it’s difficult for me to express the extent of my contempt for the political class, but I’m not right-wing. I want democracy. I want my vote.

  8. @Trooper Thompson

    The European Court of Human Rights was signed in late 1950. Philip Noel-Baker, MP for Derby South, was one of its main authors. It was part of the post World War II settlement, was approved by Churchill, and predates the EU.

  9. Well, Henry Porter has apologised for his mistake now:

    At least he’s admitted his mistake publicly, which is more than some journalists.

    To be fair, it would be nice if the Council of Europe would rename itself something without “Europe” in the title. Maybe “The Council of Western Eurasia”? That would also reflect their broader geographical scope, perhaps.

    Or add to the confusion. Meh.

  10. robert

    > So, the so-called “lazy” journos actually have it right when they can’t
    > be bothered to distinguish between international organisations.

    or, in the case of Trooper, between reality and some hysterical right-wing fantasy.

  11. (at least, that’s what the phrases “kill democracy” and “re-education camps” say to me)

  12. I think Trooper’s point is rather that the ECHR, the UN, the EU, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank et al. are all in fact the same organisation, controlled by the puppet-masters of the New World Order.

    So, the so-called “lazy” journos actually have it right when they can’t be bothered to distinguish between international organisations.

  13. Your whole stinking EU agenda is based on keeping the truth from the people long enough to destroy our national institutions and kill democracy. So your problem isn’t that this journalist got it wrong, misinforming the public being key to the EU project, only that he criticised your beloved EU.

    Why don’t you pass a law banning all criticism and be done with it? Then you can round us all up and send us to re-education camps.

  14. @Carl Gardner

    Excellent comment. I was honoured to work on Pierre Trudeau’s “Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Quite possibly the simplest most elegant Charter ever written by one of the greatest constitutional minds of the 20th century. Philip Noel-Baker, my first MP, is a close second.

  15. I think “nothing to do with the EU” is fair, too. The EU did not set up the ECtHR, does not lay down the rules it applies, and has no influence on its judgments. I think the parallel with the UN is quite a good one. Yes, EU members must be signed up to the ECHR, but then they have to be democracies, too, and they must for instance have a proportional system for EU Parliament elections. But you couldn’t blame the EU for the UK’s list system for Euroelections, which the UK alone chose. Not can you blame the EU for the ECtHR’s judgments, which it alone reaches without any input whatever from the EU.

    As for the EU signing up to the ECHR, which (if I remember right) will be possible post Lisbon, I think anyone who is concerned about the EU institutions’ use of power, as I am, should welcome this. At the moment, the Commission for instance must pay lip service to the idea of respecting fundamental rights. I don’t doubt they sincerely try to, but that’s not the same as being subject to independent scrutiny and enforcement. To be fair, the ECJ enforces fundamental rights at least to some extent, but it has other legal issues to consider aside from human rights alone, and there just isn’t much of a culture of citizens challenging the Commission, Council and Parliament in the ECJ over breaches of fundamental rights yet. It’d be better if the EU was held to the same standards as its member states – that may happen once the EU itself is subject to the ECHR and the institutions can ultimately be taken to Strasbourg.

  16. robert

    Regarding the claim that it’s easy to get these things mixed up, isn’t the reason why make use of journalists is that the investigate and distil the situation to present us with a factual news report? This isn’t some complex understanding of science or economics – it’s basic facts!

    Would we really think much of (i.e. trust) a reporter who said something like ‘The Scottish Parliament passed a law on x’ when it was actually the UK Parliament and, after it was pointed out to them that the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have powers over that issue anyway the journalist simply replied “I didn’t know that”. We should never excuse lazy journalism.

  17. Even in Germany many editors got this wrong. Have a look at the results in this Google News search. It could be that it started with a incorrect news agency story that slipped through, for example from the AFP. Even Spiegel Online made the mistake, but at least corrected it and excused themselves (at the bottom of the story).

  18. Paul Lettan


    thank you, I stand informed, I had missed that. Chapeau!

  19. Alejandro

    Jon – though you are right to point out the poor knowledge of these journalists about the EU, I think Joe has a point when he says

    “So ‘nothing to do with the EU’ is simply disingenuous and designed to confuse what’s already a deliberately confusing set up.”

    It is true that journalists have a responsibility to veracity and fact checking, but the EU has a problem, either of originality or dumb head bureaucratic stupidity, when gives names like Council of the EU, European Council and European Court of Justice to its institutions. They seem to be designed purposefully to confuse the population, every now and then (perhaps more now than then) a journalist, and even occasionally an EU expert!

  20. Err, actually – that wasn’t me! I was quoting someone from the Guardian website! 😉

    I share your frustration about the confusing number of institutions, though. Europeans are perhaps too fond of the words “President,” “Council” and “Europe.”

    The simple fact of the matter, though, is that Henry Porter is paid to research this sort of thing before he submits an article for publication. Guardian editors are also paid to fact-check this sort of thing. It’s their job.

  21. I read Henry Porter’s article shaking my head in despair. I agree with him most of the time (even though I find him a little bit too sensationalist) but his efforts were very poor and (you’re right, Jon) v lazy.

  22. Henry Porter is a bit better known than Nick Pisa, so no Google impact this time…

    As for my phrase “nothing to do with” – I think it’s OK in this instance, in that I mean that the judgments passed by the European Court of Human Rights are taken independently of anything the EU is doing. The Council of Europe and the EU are separate institutions, set up using different treaties under international law.

    OK, being a member of the CoE is a condition to become a member state of the EU… but I think your UN point sums that up – there is a link of some sort between all international bodies (the EU countries even try to coordinate in NATO for example). Although I also do agree that with the Treaty of Lisbon things become even more complex.

  23. Paul Lettan

    Er… THE Henry Porter…..erstwhile defender of civil liberties, surveillance society, data bases and ID cards?

    Porter doesn’t understand the architecture of Human Rights in Europe, the EU or UN?


    No wonder HMG ignores his very valid concerns.

    Stand in the corner, Henry, until you can explain to the class the different layers and jurisdictions of human rights. And Henry, dear boy, get your mate Dave Cameron to commit to an entrenched Charter of Rights, subject to a two-thirds parliamentary change, and an independent judiciary to accompany a written constitution.

    There’s a good boy, Henry, or do Human Rights only matter when Labour governs, Henry old chap?

  24. kernow

    Would also be worth point out that all that standardisation is a result of the common market. Take the jam jar example: 27 different sizes of jam jar means a jam manufacturer has to make 27 batches of its jam if it wants to sell its product in the EU. One size jam jar means the jam manufacturer only has to make one batch of its jam, saving money. It’s not that ridiculous when you actually think about it.

  25. Google hasn’t pushed this post up to page one when you search “Henry Porter,” sadly. Most of the commenters also didn’t pick up on the fact that this was an ECHR judgement, and nothing to do with the EU.

    One comment on the Guardian website caught my eye, though:

    “The Council of Europe is separate from the European Union, although it is a condition of membership of the EU that all Member States must also be members of the CoE and ratify the ECHR.

    So “nothing to do with the EU” is simply disingenuous and designed to confuse what’s already a deliberately confusing set up.

    Porter is materially correct despite the mealy-mouthedness of some commenters’ unwillingness to engage on any meaningful real-world level, perferring instead to dive into letter-of-the-law minutiae as is their wont.”

    Would be interesting to hear your thoughts on that argument, Jon.

    On the one hand, when the EU eventually ratifies the European Convention on Human Rights, then the distinction between the two entities will be even blurrier.

    On the other hand, all EU countries are also members of the UN. Is it okay to bash the EU when the UN does something we don’t agree with? The fact that they are seperate institutions isn’t “diving into letter-of-the-law minutiae” – it’s just a bloody fact.

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