Barack Obama attacks David Cameron. Well, almost

Have you seen his ally John Podesta’s critique of the Tories’ EU policy?

Can those of you who have been seduced by David Cameron's claim to be a "progressive Conservative", in charge of a "modern" Tory party, explain to me why it is that Dave allied his party in Europe with a bunch of "nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists, homophobes" (to borrow a line from St Nick of Clegg) that he wouldn't be caught dead with here in the UK? It is the one question David Cameron, William Hague, George Osborne et al refuse to answer.

And, speaking from personal experience, I note that Tory apologists get very upset whenever anyone even mentions the EPP/ECR issue. The truth hurts, I suppose. But what really drives them nuts (or at least nuttier than they already are!) is if you point out how upset the Obama administration is with the new Tory alliances in Europe, or if you highlight the concerns that have been expressed in private by senior US officials.

In fact, my colleague James Macintyre has received a great deal of flak in the blogosphere -- and has been smeared by a CCHQ press officer -- for daring to report President Obama's alleged verdict on Cameron after meeting the Conservative leader in 2008: "What a lightweight!" (Dare I remind you, reader, that the Cameron-supporting Sun also reported that the US president told an aide, after meeting Blair, Brown and Cameron: "Tony Blair: Sizzle and substance. Gordon Brown: Substance. David Cameron: Sizzle"?)

James got even more abuse when he started to dig deeper into the Tories' love-in with far-right Poles, Czech climate-change deniers and Latvian admirers of the Waffen SS -- and the negative reaction such links unsurprisingly elicited inside the Obama administration.

From James's column in the New Statesman, 6 August 2009:

Most recently, Obama's aides have been alarmed by Cameron's European alliance with Michal Kaminski, a former member of the neo-Nazi National Revival of Poland (NOP) party. I have learned that a 29 July column by Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian -- echoing my own report of Jewish leaders' concerns over Kaminski in last week's NS -- has been circulated inside the Obama camp. One Democratic Party source close to the administration confirmed to me: "Your assumptions about the beliefs of Obama's foreign policy team are correct -- there are concerns about Cameron among top members of the team."

Nine months on, if anyone had any doubts about the accuracy of James's reporting, then John Podesta's latest piece on the website of his think tank, the Centre for American Progress, should put them to bed.

John who? John Podesta, one of the most influential Democrats in Washington, DC and one of the few strategists close to, and trusted by, both the Obama and Clinton camps. He served as chief of staff under Bill Clinton (1998-2001) and as co-chair of Obama's transition team (between the election in November 2008 and the inauguration in January 2009). If anyone knows what's going on inside Obama's White House and Hillary's state department, it's Podesta.

Here is his damning critique of Cameron, the Conservatives and their EU allies:

Worryingly, under David Cameron's leadership, the Conservative Party's traditional Euro-skepticism has become more extreme. Consider, for example, his decision to have Conservative members leave the European People's Party -- the mainstream center-right grouping within the European Parliament that includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and French President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP -- to form a new parliamentary group with a maverick collection of racist, homophobic, and xenophobic members of the European Parliament. Beyond the obvious political symbolism this entails -- it is hardly good for Britain's prestige when its European parliamentarians sit with those who have argued the election of a black US president hails the end of civilization -- the decision also illustrates Cameron's willingness to forgo political influence to placate extreme elements of his own party.

The Conservatives are now very likely to punch below their weight in European debates, leaving others to shape the future direction of the EU. Moreover, pledging to "repatriate" powers to Britain -- a commitment that will require the unanimous consent of all 27 EU governments -- Cameron's Conservatives look set to expend what little influence they will have on counterproductive and unachievable measures rather than positive steps forward.

. . . American hopes for a more dynamic and equal European partner are still much less likely to be realized if Britain is on the fringes of the debate about the future of the union.

. . . On both climate and security, Cameron's Conservatives may have respectable views and policies. What is now in question is whether they will have the political heft in Europe to be an effective ally of the United States. It's a question that today is making the Washington policymaking community more than a little anxious.

The case for the prosecution rests, m'lord. Bring on the Tory trolls . . .

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.