It’s pretty rich hearing the Labour Party criticize Cameron for taking a principled stance on Europe. How vulgar, they say, how amateur. Doesn’t he know that the job is to (as Douglas Alexander put it yesterday) ‘balance’ domestic interests and European ambitions?
When I thought that Cameron was following Labour’s ‘sophisticated’ approach – ie, being sellouts – I lambasted him. I had egg on my face pretty quickly: my Telegraph column was published on the day that he said ‘no’ to the Eurozone deal. In my defence, he had set out to sellout – he’d wanted to take a figleaf of protection from the French. Sarkozy denied him that, as it suited his domestic purposes to be seen to sock it to Les Anglo-Saxons who he blamed for starting the crash. But Cameron learned his lesson: double-dealing is an integral part of these Brussels negotiations that he has come to loathe. He has decided to play a different game, and one I look at in my Telegraph column today.
His position now is everything that his erstwhile critics (myself included) wanted: clear, principled, honest and radical. He has called for an in-or-out referendum should he win the next election. And today he is the only European leader saying in public what they’re all saying in private: that Jean-Claude Juncker is a totally unfit to become President of the European Commission. He’s an old soak, a federalist – but this isn’t about his three-bottle lunches. He embodies a coup by Brussels institutions, in this case the European Parliament, over the elected heads of government. As Iain Martin argued on his Telegraph blog recently, his election is lurch in the wrong direction.
So why not say so? I was watching Mr Smith Goes To Washington last night, and there’s an element of this about Cameron’s new position. Why mislead? In whose service? Why not just call it as it is? Yes, Cameron may have not planned to take this ‘very well then, alone!’ position – he may have been naïve in believing the assurances from other EU leaders that they’d back him. But his starting point has been to do something unusual in Brussels: to say what he means, and mean what he says. And if that leaves him in a minority of one, it’s a matter for national pride. (Polls show that voters back him about 3-1 on Juncker.)
Unlike Blair, Cameron has no ambitions to run a continent – and he won’t give away any sovereignty to buy him brownie points in a complex Euro game that the voters don’t want him to play.
Cameron may drive many CoffeeHousers up the wall for many reasons – but here, he is being brave and bold and deserves support from those of us who criticize him when he is neither. It is Merkel who has caved in to opinion polls, which is precisely what Cameron is accused of doing. The PM is calculating that it’s better to say the right thing and lose than to sell out, fake victory and lose. And I suspect voters will agree.