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A descent into ad hominem attack

17 June 2016

Paul Vallely weights up the individuals on both sides of the EU referendum

AS THE EU vote approaches, argument seems pretty much to have been abandoned, for single-issue sloganeering and personal attacks. In that spirit, which, here is my descent into the ad hominem.

I have noticed that Exiters may generally be characterised as individualist, maverick, eccentric, buccaneering, or obsessed with one area of EU inadequacy. In contrast, some Remainers speak of ideals, peace, and solidarity, but most appear to be mainstream, cautious, complex, or even conflicted, weighing arguments both ways before coming down on the In-side.

Analysing my own prejudice, I detect an inclination to identify with one group more than the other. Perhaps a list will assist. This is not scientific, or equally weighted; after all, these are the opinion pages. But these are the names that have registered with me over the past weeks and months.



Tories: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Nigel Lawson, Norman Lamont, John Redwood, David Davis. Labour: Gisela Stuart, Kate Hoey, Maurice Glasman. UKIP: Nigel Farage, Douglas Carswell. The DUP in Northern Ireland.

Business: Rupert Murdoch’s Sun, the founders of Carphone Warehouse and Phones4U, the hotelier Rocco Forte, the National Federation of House Builders.

Church: George Carey, Giles Fraser, Anne Widdecombe.

Celebrities: Michael Caine, John Cleese, Julian Assange, Roger Daltry, Ian Botham.



Technocrats: the Governor of the Bank of England, the Treasury, the IMF, the LSE Centre for Economic Performance, the head of the NHS, 13 of Britain’s top former ambassadors, the recent heads of MI5 and MI6, seven of Britain’s most senior retired police chiefs.

Politicians: the four living Prime Ministers, most past and present Cabinet ministers, the Mayor of London, the First Minister of Scotland, Alastair Darling, Justine Greening, Alan Johnson, Peter Mandelson. On Northern Ireland: the unprecedented alliance of Tony Blair and John Major. Foreign leaders: Obama, Merkel, almost everyone except Putin.

On jobs: the CBI, the TUC, the UK’s three largest trade unions. The bosses of Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Vauxhall, and 77 per cent of the UK motor industry. The management and trade unionists of BT. The insurance giant Jardine Lloyd Thompson, Ryanair, Lord Rose (formerly of M&S), the chairman of Wetherspoons, Alan Sugar, Karren Brady, Richard Branson, seven Dragon’s Den investors, the boss of Johnnie Walker and Bell’s whisky.

On aid: the heads of Oxfam, Action Aid, the World Wildlife Fund, Save the Children, Christian Aid. Valerie Amos, Mark Malloch Brown, Paul Collier, Kevin Watkins.

Intellectuals: Stephen Hawking and 13 Nobel prize-winning scientists, including the geneticist Paul Nurse, Peter Higgs, and. Tim Berners-Lee. Amartya Sen, Ngaire Woods, and 196 of the UK’s top economists. More than 90 per cent of UK academics.

The arts: the Association of British Orchestras, the chief executives of the British Phonographic Industry and the BRIT Awards, Sadler’s Wells, the Hallé, the Barbican. The Poet Laureate, Nicholas Hytner, Jude Kelly, David Puttnam, Tom Stoppard, Danny Boyle, John le Carré.

Church: the Pope (yes, the Vatican declared), the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Wales, and seven other bishops.


As the Book of Proverbs observes, we may walk with the wise, or be the companion of fools.


Paul Vallely is Visiting Professor in Public Ethics at the University of Chester.

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