Tuesday 7 June 2016

Cameron of Epirus

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Political commentators were quite surprised when David Cameron decided to put himself at the centre of the campaign to renegotiate the UK's membership of the European Union. 

This wasn't a friendly and meaningless summit where the goals and possible achievements are wrangled over months in advance with a friendly communique declaring victory for all sides is issued at the end regardless of what was achieved. It wasn't the usual grandstanding jolly boys outing for heads of state to get positive PR headlines and a few days break from tedious domestic politics.

This was something serious. Something that an advisor might describe as 'Courageous'.

 - No guarantee of any concrete result, despite the negotiators being sent in advance to asses the ground.
- No guarantee of consensus from all the other EU members. Very few allies at any discussions. The ever present unwillingness of the EU to ever concede a loss of  its powers. Plus, a hostile home media very suspicious of the actions of the PM in going there at all.

Usually the leader would send a trusty subordinate to fight on his behalf. William Hague would have been just the man if he was still in post. Dependable. Reliable. Competent. Popular among colleagues. Luckily, the PM had another such man to send instead. Philip Hammond, a key Remain man, and Foreign Secretary, he seemed prefect for the role. He would have done as asked. He is very capable. When the Heads of State part came around, the PM could have flown over for the high profile, do or die moment. And to take the glory for the success in any negotiations.

Cameron could also have avoided some of the blame for the resulting minor concessions that were  eventually won. The 'thin gruel' could have been laid at Hammy's door. So avoiding the full taint of failure. The renegotiation concessions, much trumpeted before the event as a turning point in the UK's relationship with the European Union, turned out to be so feeble that they have not been mentioned by the Remain campaign since their announcement.

Fast forward to the Remain campaign and the lessons of 1975.
Wilson did not make himself the main leader for remain. He was 'pro remain' but was wise enough to be looking at the post referendum situation on his already fractious party. Wilson allowed MPs to campaign as they wished. That allowed him to return some of the big beasts of the Leave campaign to his own small majority party, with minimal fuss. At the time Tony Benn and Michael Foot were the Gove and Johnson of the day. Well known, popular figures among party members or the public.

The lessons of 2014 Scottish Referendum should have been heeded too. The Labour party that had been previously been dominant in Scottish politics for decades, had lost ground, and was looking to re-establish its control, was wiped out in the post referendum election. Completely wiped out. No signs of any recovery at all. The punishment some say, for siding with the Tory enemy over the referendum.

Why Cameron has decided to put himself at the very centre of only one wing of his party is a mystery. He may have chosen the bigger wing, for reasons that he absolubtely believes in, but that will not help him with the aftermath of a Remain victory. He has deliberately chosen to use all the power of the government. Of the civil service. Of the opposition parties and of big business to campaign for one side, with himself, and his Chancellor as the front men for that side.

David Cameron is not a stupid man. He knows all the reasons for not doing what he done.
So, does he believe he has Blair like powers of persuasion that will allow him to soothe hurt feeling and allow reconstruction after the civil war? 
Does he believe that the vote was going to be so close that only his own intervention, with all the force of his personality and gravitas as leader was the only way to bring victory to Remain? And the consequences of those actions would just have to be dealt with later once victory was assured.
Or does he think, what the hell..I'm going in one or two years anyway. A new leader can sort all of this mess out much easier than I could anyway. I'm off..

Tory Remainers are probably backing that the labour party is in such a mess that it doesn't matter too much what they do to themselves. They have plenty of time, with the fixed term act, to rebuild a consensus. And the woeful Corbyn isn't remotely interested in short term political point scoring and a long term undermining strategy anyway.

The flaw in all of that is it is likely to get a lot more fractious before it gets less. That the economy is bound to tip before the next election so damaging the one favourable Tory constant since 2010, economic management. And that Corbyn is unlikely to be leader for 2020.

Labour MPs will not allow another leader to ruin their best chance of power since 2010. A divided, damaged, floundering Tory party, without the full backing of its usually supportive media is an easy target for any half decent opposition leader.

To imagine Labour will just blithely continue not to have one is wishful thinking.


DtP said...

Fair points all. There is the huge conundrum though that Corbyn has leadership totally sewn up. If they putsch him then their only opportunity would be for him not to receive the 40 MP votes to go through to the 'public' ballot (geez - now that was political stupidity) and he'll just get re-elected again.

As you say, Cameron is lazy but when he thinks about things he can be quite clever (or Oliver Letwin can) so watching him have a nervous breakdown live on Telly is a bit weird and rather disconcerting. The only thing I can think of is much like the Scottish referendum and the rogue poll - he's been studying polling data and simply misread it - he thought he was on a winner and that Osborne would be anointed - he'd have his legacy and his mate would have the leadership. Hmm....looks a bit optimistic in retrospect.

Demetrius said...

Not so much Pyrrhus more Icarus in my view.

Nick Drew said...

I know we have loads of readers here who'll rightly claim: I always said Cameron was an oily, ocean-going shit

but I never agreed, and i'm still puzzled

as mused on the previous thread, might he be the right person to negotiate post-Brexit-vote terms (i.e a proper deal, this time) with the EC?

plenty of material for a Shakespeare in this one

Blue Eyes said...

ND you beat me to it. I was pro-Cameron right up until he came back with nothing and proclaimed a huge success. Why is he doing this project terror thing? He said in November that he thought the UK could thrive outside the EU. Did he get got at by Merkel et al.? Is he so worried that he genuinely believes this now? If so, why doesn't he treat us like adults and explain why?

It is a nonsense and when my blood-sugar runs low I get quite irritated.

Nick Drew said...

the other thing ....

the other thing is, earlier this year Cameron made my old heart leap when he promised a Sovereignty Bill, which he declared to be vital

I am guessing it was just a sop to BorisGove to get them onside, because when they flipped, suddenly this Bill wasn't needed at all

a pity because I thought it had truly massive potential in the hands of the right draftsperson

and it still might ...

CityUnslicker said...

The Tories will do well to put themselves back together after this wall jumping effort.

With a remain slight win >>> bigger UKIP vote a la SNP in 2020 - we waz robbed guv. (then it will fizzle over the following years)

With a Leave win >>> Big UKIP win in 2016/7, Labour and Tories will be desperate to make it a non-event and sign up to something 99% the same as EU membership.

Just need to dump Nigel after he has done the heavy lifting and have someone (Nuttall) who can bridge the gap to humanity. If they keep Nigel it maybe the only thing that holds them back.

AndrewZ said...

It may well be that many Tories do believe that Labour will still be controlled by the far-left in 2020. If so, they will be tempted to think that it doesn’t matter what they do in the short term because a comfortable majority of people will still feel obliged to vote for them in 2020 to keep the loonies out.

As for Cameron, it may be that he really does believe that it is vitally important for Britain to stay in the EU. But the “Remain” campaign has been based on a combination of scaremongering about the perils of Brexit and appeals to institutional authority in the form of the IMF, Bank of England, etc. They cannot rely on scaremongering alone, because even if they make Brexit look dangerous the other side might make the EU look even more dangerous. But it’s very hard to come up with a popular pro-EU message when the whole thing is so conspicuously arrogant, elitist and anti-democratic. Therefore the “positive” message is that you will be safe in the EU because all these clever and important people agree that it’s in your best interests. They are appealing to authority and prestige because they don’t have any other options.

This in turn makes it extremely difficult if not impossible for the Prime Minister to remain above the fray. Firstly, because if all these other institutions are declaring for one side then people will inevitably want to know where the Prime Minister stands as well. Secondly, because these interventions can only be arranged with the assistance (or at least acquiescence) of the PM. So if “Remain” have to follow this strategy and the strategy requires the assistance of the government there is no way for the Prime Minister to conceal his involvement. Therefore he has nothing to lose from openly supporting the side that everybody already knows he supports.

Bill Quango MP said...

That is a good set of points Andrew. But Cameron didn't have to declare WW3 and plague of frogs if anyone even thinks about Brexit.
He could have got someone else to declare plague of frogs and Armageddon and just given a soft "well..I wouldn't go that far...but the issue of uncertainty and economic failure is clear..blah blah.."

Corbyn has managed to be in favour of the EU whilst reminding all his true believers that he isn't actually in favour of it all. Simply by not being the first to speak. By appearing reluctant to be drawn , and then endorsing remain, he has managed to position himself do he can, with only a little revisionim join either camp post referendum. This is almost certainly by accident brought about by the delay in making a firm decision. But team Corbyn are at their very best when everyone forgets they exist.

Cameron could have done the same. Just not be first to speak out. Let Remain speak for him. Or a powerful Remainer in cabinet.
I think he has handled this referendum very badly. Because he should have been focused on post referendum As well as the referendum.

Obviously, for him, winning is paramount. But it's a result that will be over in a few weeks time. And he has years left to govern.

He would really need excellent people skills to keep a narrow losing Brexit wing in check post Remain.

I expect he will be gone in a year whichever side wins.

dearieme said...

I still think I'm right: he's frantically signalling "Don't believe this rubbish I'm obliged to spout, vote Leave for heaven's sake!"

Electro-Kevin said...

Of Dave. I think we might be forgetting the power of SamCam, Mumsnet and the Chipping Norton set.

Not just to do their bidding but to be seen to do their bidding. That's why I think he's put himself in such a position.

Upper class Remainers probably don't like the idea of plebs getting their way. Brendan O'Neill did an interesting article on it recently.

Electro-Kevin said...


Dick the Prick said...


I see Ukip as a busted flush either way. They've done awesome work but job done.

Could be wrong


Bill Quango MP said...

Thanks kev.
i liked that more as i read on. With all those quotes you soon warm to his theme.

AndrewZ said...

BQ, the clumsiness of Cameron’s scaremongering supports the theory that he is a second-rate politician who has been fortunate enough to face third- and fourth-rate opponents. After all, he couldn’t win a clear majority against Gordon Brown. It’s not just that Brown was unpopular. It’s that he held an ultra-safe seat and had become Prime Minister through internal Labour Party intrigue. In 2010 he campaigned like somebody who hadn’t faced a genuinely contested election for decades and couldn’t really remember how to do it. A really capable politician would have played him off the park but Cameron could only manage a score draw. We’re seeing the same lack of cutting edge in his approach to the referendum.