A hiding to nothing? Photo: Getty Images
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David Cameron and Alexis Tsipras forget the same thing: Germany has an electorate, too

Far from making David Cameron's prospects for a deal better, events in Greece show how poor the prospects for renegotiation are.

A charismatic and controversial politician is elected with 36 per cent of the vote promising European reform. Our country can't take anymore of this, he says. It's time for change, he says. 

Unfortunately, the other constituent nations of the European Union don't quite see it that way. They have their own problems: the German tabloids are all against a deal. The social democratic parties of the North are worried about political contagion and emboldening their own populist rivals. And Eastern Europe simply doesn't want to play ball. 

For Alexis Tspiras on Greek debt in 2015, read David Cameron on immigration in 2016?

Well, the comparison is potentially a little unfair: to Tspiras. No economist seriously disputes that Greece is not going to be able to pay back all of its debts -  no economist really believes that access to tax credits are the real reason why immigrants from Eastern Europe choose to come to Britain. It's the prospect of work, rather than in-work benefits, that makes Britain's labour market attractive. 

But broadly, the big miscalculation is there: forgetting that given a choice between short-term appeasement of their own electorates and long-term thinking, most politicians will choose the former. The one point in the last German election when Angela Merkel looked vulnerable was over the issue of further Greek bailouts. None of the beleagured social democratic parties - those few that remain in office, that is - want to provide any further signs that voting for a populist party to their left is a better bet. 

Even given the risk of crisis spreading throughout the Eurozone, the incentive for politicians in fiscally-hawkish Eastern Europe and Germany is still to hold out against a deal, although economic reality may force some form of climbdown. Britain's Prime Minister, however, lacks a carrot or a stick: he has nothing to offer the leaders of Latvia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the rest of "new Europe" in exchange for taking away tax credits from their own voters. (Taking away tax credits, Cameron may learn in short order, is not very popular with voters.) 

So, far from making "Europe" more willing to do a deal, the Greek crisis shows just how difficult Cameron's prospects are. He won't even have the IMF's research department on his side. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left