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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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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