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Cameron's tough stance on Juncker: who's it for?

The Prime Minister's hardline attitude is now more about impressing British voters than winning the battle over the top EU post. 

David Cameron
David Cameron. Photo: Wikimedia

Although it seems ill-fated, David Cameron’s hardline stance against the selection of Jean Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission is proving a success with British voters.

Counterintuitively, perhaps, the Prime Minister’s likely doomed doggedness is being viewed as a sign of strength rather than weakness.

The latest Populus poll for the FT revealed that 43 per cent of Brits feel that the Prime Minister is “right in any case” to try and block the federalist Luxembourger, while just 14 per cent say he is right only if he succeeds.

It is interesting that even when unlikely to win out, a tough stance by the nation’s leader towards Johnny Foreigner is favoured by the electorate.

More than that, Cameron’s attitude remains popular even though it has provoked extreme frustration and dismay among our continental neighbours.

Make no mistake, however: this public support for the Prime Minister is not based on widespread British attitudes about the EU or increased integration.

Rather, Brits' reaction to Cameron's stance against Juncker taking the top EU post tells us more about oursevles and what we desire from and like about domestic politics.

We like strength in our leaders, which in turn projects the strength of our small island nation on the world stage. A hangover from post-Colonialism? Maybe.

It is good news for Cameron, whose gamble to stick out the fight even with defeat in sight has paid off. There are two chief benefits for the Prime Minister in maintaining this pose. Firstly, it projects robust leadership, at a time when such qualities seem deeply lacking at the top of British politics.

The Prime Minister's hardline stance will also prove useful in conveying the impression of him as a deeply principled individual who will keep fighting for what he believes in even as he goes down in flames.

We have seen a similar phenomenon in Russia in recent months, where the leader's aggressive foreign policy, perceived strength, and supposedly "principled" stance on the protection of ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers abroad, gave him a strong boost domestically.

While the international community heaped criticism on Russian President Vladimir Putin following the annexation of Crimea and his handling of the Ukraine crisis, Russians at home loved it.

Last month Putin’s popularity hit a six-year high according to the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion. His approval rating rose to 85 per cent, up from 64 per cent in May 2013.

Pundits have noted that the only time Putin enjoyed higher domestic approval ratings (hitting an astonishing 90 per cent) was after the 2008 war with Georgia - again projecting Russian strength.

It just goes to show, the old axiom that all foreign policy is domestic policy still holds true.

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