You know you’ve not necessarily added a great deal to your argument when Ken Livingstone is telling you off for invoking Hitler. Boris Johnson finds himself in that rather awkward position today, with the former Mayor being scolded by another former Mayor for claiming at the weekend that Hitler was among ‘various people’ who tried to create a European superstate and that ‘the EU is an attempt to do this by different methods’.
Livingstone insisted that while ‘what I said was perfectly true’ (that was that Hitler supported Zionism ‘before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews’, in case you’d forgotten) that Boris had got his facts wrong, and that ‘there was never a plan for a United States of Europe under Hitler. What he wanted was actually a Greater Germany that absorbed neighbouring states, with Britain and France rendered subservient’.
So that’s settled then, in the great Hitler debate of 2016. The question is why Boris thought it sensible to mention the dictator in the first place, when any fool knows that bringing the Nazis into a debate has a tendency to distract from the important and nuanced point you think you’re making and turn everyone’s attention onto talking about Hitler, again. Even if Hitler’s ambitions for a unified superstate could fall into the category of what Boris was talking about, what is the benefit in bringing him up and forcing your colleagues for the next 24 hours to defend you talking about Hitler, rather than what you said about the federalist ambitions of European Union politicians?
Boris’s claim isn’t the only mildly ludicrous intervention in the EU referendum: it does follow David Cameron warning of World War Three if Britain uses the referendum that he gave the country to vote to leave the EU. With five weeks left until the vote itself, the debate can’t surely continue on this trajectory for much longer.