Well, you could have knocked me over with a pork pie. Sir Eric Pickles, that man of Dickensian dimension and character, has just said something sensible.
Being in agreement with Pickles is a shocking state of affairs, and one which may take some adjustment.
The Tory former communities secretary was speaking about the latest bit of flammable nonsense from Boris Johnson when he compared the European Union’s attempts to unify Europe with the actions of Adolf Hitler.
Drawing comparisons with Ken Livingstone, another former London mayor with a big mouth, who was suspended from Labour for suggesting that Hitler supported Zionism, Pickles said: “If the last few weeks tell us anything: it is rarely a help to mention Hitler in support of an argument by an ex-mayor of London.”
How true, and how alarming to find oneself nodding along to words that rolled from that famously orotund mouth. Perhaps disagreeing with someone because of the way they look and sound is unfair; disagreeing with what they usually stand for is a different matter, of course.
Anyway Sir Eric – was he knighted for unstinting services to pomposity? – is right about Boris, and never mind what various Eurosceptic newspapers are trying to argue this morning.
In its leader, the Daily Mail wonders “what did Mr Johnson actually say that was wrong… is this really a cynical, hysterical argument, or simply the voice of logic and common sense?”
To the first part of that question the answer is ‘yes’; and to the second it is ‘no with knobs on’. Boris Johnson wouldn’t know logic and common sense if he accidentally tripped over it during a photo opportunity – “Ah, sorry – didn’t see that lying there…”
Sadly, this is another example of the debate around the Europe vote being devalued by thin arguments, silliness and nastiness. As the Times puts it this morning: “Britain deserves better than the shrill point-scoring into which this debate has descended.”
As for dragging Hitler into the argument, that is always a sign of weakness and better suits a saloon-bar bore than an intelligent man who wishes to be taken seriously as a politician.
It has long been the case that playing the Hitler card in an argument is an act of desperation. As long ago as 1951, the philosopher Leo Strauss coined a phrase for this tactic, Reductio ad Hitlerum, although that was more to do with comparing an opponent’s views with those of Hitler (according to a quick Google).
In his Hitler moment during his interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Boris Johnson spoke of the aspiration to entrench European unity, saying “and it ends tragically… the EU is an attempt to do this by different methods”.
Ah, yes – would that be Hitler’s attempts to ban our kettles or straighten our bananas (or whatever Euro-myth is favour of the moment)?
Perhaps we could have a ban on mentioning Hitler at least until the vote next month. Incidentally, I am still with David Cameron on the need for Britain to stay in Europe – and agreeing with that man is almost as upsetting as being in accord with something plucked from the Pickles jar.