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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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.