Cameron's heart clearly isn't in Europe

The Prime Minister knows Britain is economically dependent on the eurozone, but he finds emerging ma

 

One of the more revealing passages in David Cameron’s speech on the economy yesterday was the section in which he talked about global trade.

When the Prime Minister talks about Europe and the eurozone, he exudes frustration and impatience. He would like to lead a discussion in Brussels about the kinds of reforms - liberalisation and widening the single market – that he believes are the prerequisites for growth. He must also know that building the alliances required to achieve those reforms and getting them approved by every EU member state will be diplomatic torture. Besides, there is still the small matter of the eurozone crisis to be resolved. A new digital services directive is not at the top of most European leaders’ priority lists. Cameron has no natural interest in or affection for the process of getting deals done in Europe and it shows.

By contrast, when he talks about the opportunities for British exports outside Europe he sounds almost evangelical. He talks about “coalitions of the willing” to press ahead with free trade deals. In Europe, he sees crisis, elsewhere he sees opportunity:

The globalisation of demand means new countries demanding our products, fuelling new jobs at home. If we make the most of this, there is a huge opportunity to secure a great future for our country. And that is why as we get through crisis, I believe we can look ahead with confidence.

In an essay for the magazine this week I mention the attention paid in Downing Street to arguments about the long term growth potential in Asia and Latin America as offering a potential alternative source of economic engagement to Europe. This “networked world” thesis – the idea that proximity should not be the arbiter of trade preferences - is a favourite of ultra-sceptics in the Tory party. It is generally dismissed by pro-Europeans as a fantasy that pays no heed to geography, history, culture or diplomacy. Eurozone trade was the only thing that stopped the UK from going into recession last year. Europe is the market of existential importance to our economy. And, crucially, there is no reason why the EU should allow Britain to retain all of its current trade privileges, while opting out of the various aspects of economic and political integration Tory sceptics happen to dislike. The scenario where we retain free access to the single market while unburdened/unprotected by EU regulation is a fantasy.

But I sense a growing suspicion at the very top of the Conservative party that the EU might be (a) in decline and (b) incapable of reform. One Downing Street advisor complained to me recently that Britain would have a much better bilateral trade deal with India if we weren’t shackled by the need to negotiate as part of the EU.

Current political and diplomatic reality demands constant engagement with Europe. But it is easy to imagine Cameron at a G8 or G20 summit feeling more and more irritated by his entanglement with the eurozone and contemplating that little bit more seriously the cost-benefit analysis of the UK going it alone. 

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

Reuters/New Statesman composite.
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When it comes to social media, we all have a responsibility to avoid sharing upsetting images

If Twitter is the new journalism, we are all editors – and responsible for treating our fellow humans with dignity.

“I wish I hadn’t seen that”, my colleague says from across the desk. It’s been an hour since the first reports came in of a shooting outside Parliament, and the news agency Reuters has started posting photographs of injured people, knocked down by the terrorist as he drove across Westminster Bridge.

In one, a brunette woman leans over a victim whose blood is beginning to stain the wet pavement. Lying on her back, she is framed by scattered postcards sold for tourists which have been knocked to the floor. She is clutching the arm of the woman helping her, but her eyes are staring dead into the photographer’s lens.

Another photograph – the one that my colleague is referring to – disturbs me even more: a man who has fallen (or been pushed?) off the bridge onto a stairwell. He is face down in a pool of blood, his left leg at an unnatural angle. It is impossible to tell if he is alive or not.

Briefly, before I scroll past, I wonder if someone, somewhere is seeing the same picture and experiencing a shock of recognition as they recognise their friend’s clothes.

And then there is one picture which I now cannot find on Twitter, but which, lying in bed last night, I could not stop thinking of: a woman’s legs extended from under the wheel of a bus, her skirt hiked up to show her underwear, her shoes missing.

We are a desk of journalists covering an attack on the Houses of Parliament, so I keep scrolling. It is only later, in an article by the Telegraph, that I learn a junior doctor has declared the woman dead.

Of course, the shock of seeing images like these is nothing compared to what war reporters, doctors or police go through on a regular basis. But a 2015 study at the University of Toronto found that extended exposure to violent or disturbing material can have a severe effect on journalists’ mental health.

The impact can be particularly confusing when one does not anticipate seeing violence.On social media, we increasingly encounter images this way: without warning and without a chance to steel ourselves. This is particularly a problem when it comes to members of the public, whose jobs don’t require them to look at shocking material but who can nevertheless be exposed to it just by virtue of using a social media network.

It is for this reason that, shortly after Reuters published their photographs of the Westminster victims, prominent journalists began posting asking their colleagues not to retweet them. Some protested the fact that Reuters had published them at all.

In today’s media landscape, news moves fast and social media faster. Where a picture editor would have previously had until their print deadline to decide which images to run, now photographers are able to send their work back to the office almost instantaneously, and editors must make a snap decision about what to release.

Deciding what images to use can be a difficult call – especially under pressure. On the one hand, there is the urge to not turn away, to bear witness to the full magnitude of what has happened, even if it is shocking and upsetting. On the other, there is the need to treat fellow human beings with dignity, and particularly to avoid, where possible, showing images of victims whose families have not yet been informed.

Social media makes this process even more difficult. Once released online, photographs of the Westminster attack were quickly saved and re-posted by private individuals, stripped of context or warning. One can choose not to follow the Reuters Pictures account, but one cannot necessarily avoid seeing an image once it is being retweeted, reposted and recycled by private accounts.

As the line between traditional news and social media blurs and we increasingly become participants in the news, as well as consumers of it, our sense of responsibility also shifts. On Twitter, we are our own editors, each charged with making sure we extend dignity to our fellow humans, even – especially – when the news is dramatic and fast-moving.

I was glad, this morning, to encounter fewer and fewer photographs – to not see the girl lying under the bus again. But at 3am last night, I thought about her, and about her family; about them knowing that journalists on desks across Britain had seen up their loved one’s skirt during the last moments of her life. It was, without putting too fine a point on it, no way to encounter a fellow human being.

Over the next few days, we will find out more about who the victims were. The media will release images of them in happier times, tell us about their jobs and careers and children – as is already happening with Keith Palmer, the policeman who we now know died on the Parliamentary Estate.

It is those images which I hope will be shared: not just as a way to resist fear, but as a way of acknowledging them as more than victims – of forging a different connection, based not in horror and voyeurism, but in a small moment of shared humanity.

There is no shame in being affected by graphic images, however removed one “ought” to feel. If you would like someone to talk to, Mind can provide details of local services.

The BBC also provides advice for those upset by the news.

Find out how to turn off Twitter image previews here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland