(or “Bill Newton Dunn falls off his perch”)
Back in 1999, the East Midlands Conservative euro-team was discussing which Winnie-the-Pooh character they’d most like to be associated with. Bill Newton Dunn said he liked to think of himself as the Wise Old Owl. But a hoarse stage-whisper from the back made a less kind suggestion: “No, Eeyore“. The room collapsed in laughter, and Bill seems to have been on a bed of thistles ever since.
Later, of course, Bill switched his allegiance to the Lib Dems, because he couldn’t agree with the Tories’ policies on the EU. And more recently, I moved to UKIP, for much the same reason.
On Wednesday, we were invited by BBC Radio Humberside to debate whether the UK needed an In/Out EU referendum, following the remarkable statement by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble that there may need to be a German referendum before further fiscal integration can proceed.
Our exchange suffered, as a debate, because it was so one-sided. Listening to the replay, I was struck by the contrast. I was making a clear, principled and fact-based case for the British people to have their say on EU membership. Bill was reduced to increasingly querulous and irrelevant ad hominem attacks (“please stop that parrot interrupting!”), and finally to pathetic appeals to the presenter to be allowed more air-time. At one point Bill insisted that the European parliament was “perfectly democratic”. This from the man who claims to have invented the phrase “democratic deficit”.
One has to have some sympathy for Bill. Seeking to deny the British people a say on our EU membership is an increasingly tough case to sell. But perhaps Bill should ask himself whether he has anything interesting or useful to say before he goes on air.
Sadly, I’m afraid that John Cleese does dead parrots a whole lot better than BND.