David Cameron. Photo: Wikimedia
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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. 

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.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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