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 editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics. 

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On Brexit, David Cameron knows exactly what he's doing

It's not a dead cat - it's about disarming the Leave campaign. 

If you’re explaining, you’re losing. That’s the calculation behind David Cameron’s latest entry into the In-Out (or Remain-Leave in new money) battle. The Prime Minister has warned that were Britain to leave the European Union, the migrant camp at Calais – popularly known as “the Jungle” – could move to Britain. But Eurosceptic campaigners have angrily denounced the remarks, saying that there’s little chance of it happening either way.  

Who’s right? My colleague Henry Zeffman has written a handy explainer of the ins and outs of the row, but the short version is: the Eurosceptic campaigners are broadly right.

But the remarks are very far from a gaffe by Downing Street or Cameron, and they aren’t a “dead cat” strategy – where you say something offensive, prompting a debate about that instead of another, trickier issue – either.

Campaigners for Remain have long been aware that immigration remains their glass jaw. The line wheeled out by Cameron has been long-planned. Late last year, senior members of the In campaign discussed what they saw as the danger points for the campaign. The first was a renegotiation that managed to roll back workplace rights, imperilling the support of the Labour party and the trade unions was one – happily avoided by Cameron’s piecemeal deal.

That the deal would be raked over in the press is not considered a risk point. Stronger In has long known that its path to victory does not run through a sympathetic media. The expectation has long been that even substantial concessions would doubtless have been denounced by the Mail, Telegraph and Sun – and no-one seriously expected that Cameron would emerge with a transformative deal. Since well before the general election, the Prime Minister has been gradually scaling back his demands. The aim has always been to secure as many concessions as possible in order to get an In vote – but Downing Street’s focus has always been on the “as possible” part rather than the “securing concessions” bit.

Today’s row isn’t about deflecting attention from a less-than-stellar deal, but about defanging another “risk point” for the In campaign: border control.

Campaign strategists believe they can throw the issue into neutral by casting doubt on Leave’s ability to control borders any better. One top aide said: “Our line is this: if we vote to leave, the border moves from Calais to Dover, it’s that simple.” They are also keen to make more of the fact that Norway has equally high levels of migration from the European Union as the United Kingdom. While In will never “own” the issue of immigration, they believe they can make the battle sufficiently murky that voters will turn to the areas that favour a Remain vote – national security, economic stability, and keeping people in their jobs.

What the row exposes, rather than a Prime Minister under pressure is a politician who knows exactly what he’s doing – and just how vulnerable the lack of a serious heavyweight at the top makes the Leave campaign(s). Most people won't make a judgement based on reading up the minutinae of European treaties, but on a "sniff test" of which side they think is more trustworthy. It's not a fight about the facts - it's a fight about who is more trusted by the public: David Cameron, or Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling or Priti Patel? As one minister said to me: "I like Priti, but the idea that she can go against the PM as far as voters are concerned is ridiculous. Most people haven't heard of her." 

Leave finds itself in a position uncomfortably like that of Labour in the run-up to the election: with Cameron able to paint himself as the only option guaranteeing stability, against a chaotic and muddled alternative. Without a politician, a business figure or even a prominent celebrity who can provide credibility on the level of the Prime Minister, any row about whether or not Brexit increases the chances of more migrants on Britain’s doorsteps helps Remain – and Cameron. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.