|Sayle's parents' beliefs made them apologists for Stalin. Europhiles must not do the same.|
It wasn't because they were bad people, he said, but rather because, like many on the Left from their generation, they blinded themselves into a state of wilful ignorance.
Evidence of the dictator's cruelty was there for people who wanted to see it but, for them, the idea of a truly socialist state - a worker's paradise free from the chains of capitalism - was far too precious an idea to be spoilt by the grim reality of gulags, mass executions and squalid living conditions.
George Bernard Shaw, another of Stalin's 'useful idiots', made a similar mistake in swallowing whole the carefully-orchestrated fantasy world he was shown on a visit to the USSR in the 1930s.
For him it was proof there was a bountiful alternative to capitalism in the dark days of the Great Depression; for millions of Soviet citizens, it meant poverty, torture, persecution, famine and death.
Writing in The Times, Anthony Brown described today's useful idiots as those - The Guardian and the BBC included - who make excuses for Islamists out of sympathy for their shared rabid anti-Americanism.
But a similar parallel, in my view, has been the slavish defence, by those who desire closer ties with Europe, of anything the European Union does - no matter how undemocratic, destructive or insane - and calling anyone who opposes it xenophobic, fascistic or mentally ill.
For them the repudiation of nationalism, the formation of closer trading ties, or the avoidance of war are all noble enough virtues to ignore the shocking lack of transparency and accountability in the European Commission, the active contempt shown for the democratic process when referendums give undesired results and the manner in which the euro is rapidly hurtling the world toward its next great financial crisis.
Readers of this blog will know I am not entirely opposed to the idea of a federal Europe per ce. I'm something of an agnostic to the idea and like to think that, in the true spirit of Toryism, I look at any such development on its merits rather than a purely ideological stance.
But I set my face like flint against everything the EU in its current form represents. In my view European unification, like that of Italy and Germany, requires the heartfelt support of its people to work; it has their contempt. It would have to move forward by entirely democratic means; it does not. Its raison d'être would be to improve the lives of its constituent peoples; instead it impoverishes them while serves an invisible bureaucracy and vast corporations.
But the inability of our present political culture to accomodate both europhilia and a contempt for the EU within the same movement was demonstrated painfully by the abject failure of Libertas - Europe's first transcontinental party - to make the slightest dent in the 2009 European Parliament elections.
So it is with delight that I read the deathbed conversions of prominent europhiles Max Hastings and Matthew Parris today (which you can read here and here). Both have spent all their adult lives arguing for further European integration and labelling as bigots all those who stood against it.
They ought to be applauded for, while finally coming round to how enormously destructive the EU has been, clearly not changing their beliefs on the wider goal of European unity. Guardianistas and these politicians (hat tip Daniel Hannan) would do well to take note.