David Cameron arrives for the second day of the EU Council on June 27, 2014 at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Cameron's failure to block Juncker isn't a glorious defeat

Britain looks closer to the EU exit than ever - an outcome the PM never wanted.

Through an act of political alchemy, David Cameron is seeking to turn his failure to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker being nominated as the next president of the EU commission into a success.  The Prime Minister wants this outcome to be seen as a glorious defeat, casting himself as the plucky Brit who stood alone (along with hard-right Hungary) against the federalist foe.

He shouldn't be allowed to rewrite history. When Cameron made his opposition to Juncker clear three weeks ago it was in the belief that other European leaders, most importantly Angela Merkel, would rally to his cause. They didn't. Rather than siding with Cameron, Merkel publicly rebuked him for warning that Juncker's nomination would threaten Britain's EU membership. For the first time since Cameron pledged to hold an in/out referendum by the end of 2017, the Conservative hypothesis that this vow would make it easier to secure concessions was stress-tested - and exploded almost immediately.

As pro-Europeans warned at the time of the PM's Bloomberg speech, it is patient alliance-building, not blackmail, that is required for progress in Europe. Cameron's utter failure in this regard was helpfully exposed on Monday when the Polish government's private view of his strategy was published by Wprost magazine. The foreign minister of a country that should be a natural ally of the UK was revealed to have declared that Cameron "fucked up the fiscal pact", believes in "stupid propaganda" and "stupidly tries to play the system". He added: "You know, his whole strategy of feeding them scraps in order to satisfy them is just as I predicted, turning against him; he should have said: 'fuck off!'. Tried to convince people and isolate [the sceptics]. But he ceded the field to those that are now embarrassing him."

It should never be forgotten that Cameron did not want to promise an in/out EU referendum. Along with other Conservative ministers, he voted against one in the House of Commons in 2011. The pledge was wrung out of him by recalcitrant backbenchers who took him hostage and have not relinquished their grip since.

There are plenty in Cameron's party who will relish Britain's isolation today. Some, espousing revolutionary defeatism, will even welcome Juncker's nomination. As Marxists used to say, "the worse things get, the better". But they are those whose only concern is to force Britain out of the EU by whatever means possible. It was precisely to avoid capitulating to this faction that Cameron resisted granting a referendum for so long. But he gave way, insisting that the EU could be reformed to Britain's tastes. The nomination of Juncker is a hammer blow to this notion. Not only is the federalist's victory proof of the UK's feeble influence, it will also make it far harder to secure any significant concessions on the free movement of labour and the principle of "ever closer union". Never in 41 years of membership has Britain looked closer to the EU exit door - and that is not an outcome that Cameron ever wanted.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496