Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Cameron needs to review and politicise his government’s negotiating effort…

Mon 19 December 2011, 5:05pm

It’s an odd twist of fate whereby we face a situation in which most of Ireland ought to be putting some store on David Cameron’s (albeit abortive) attempt to renegotiate a better and more fitting solution to the solvency problems of the currency that no lender of last resort it seems can be made to love.

As Micheal Martin pointed out after his meeting with the Taoiseach last week:

I asked the Taoiseach why Ireland did not consider supporting the British view that there was no need for a new treaty and that what is being proposed could have been dealt with through changes to existing treaties. Ireland and Britain have much in common and would have found common cause in previous negotiations on a wide range of issues. Ireland is not best served by having one less ally in the discussions.

Well, one problem may be, as Ian Parsley notes in some detail, that the British PM’s record on negotiations is not quite as pristine as it could be. In particular the Conservative party’s ongoing attempts to merge with a much smaller and much less well resourced Ulster Unionist party (a process we should add that is still continuing, apparently with the PM’s good offices, even though the would be target of their poltical affection has repeatedly told them no). Ian, who was a member of the party at the time divines three major flaws in the Conservative approach to negotiation:

Firstly, the Conservatives became far too focused on their own political objectives rather than the country’s practical requirements – or, put another way (as Alasdair Campbell does here), they not for the first time confused tactics with strategy. Honestly, I find the notion of the Prime Minister going to Berlin and demanding things about the finance sector at this juncture in Europe’s economic history just as embarrassing as I find NI politicians going to London to moan about symbols or such like.

Secondly, again not dissimilarly to NI politicians trying to bang doors down in London over issues of no practical relevance, the UK failed spectacularly to see the broad political and economic imperatives at stake across Europe – and given the rest of Europe is such a vital trading partner, subsequently missed its own. The PM said he was negotiating in the UK’s “national interest” – but in a globalised economy where most people in the UK drive German cars, drink French wine, eat Italian noodles served by Polish waiters on Swedish furniture shipped by Danish firms all signed up to a Spanish telephony provider, he had missed completely that the UK’s and Europe’s interests are tied in together already. If he had gone to negotiate in Europe’s interests, he would have done the UK a better service.

Thirdly, has the PM missed completely that the past government’s fundamental failure was relying on the City to go on a public spending spree? Has he missed his own Chancellor’s call for “economic rebalancing”? Is he not therefore making precisely the same mistake, ultimately, as the predecessor he so rightly chastised? By such an open defence of the very sector which broke us, he is now limiting the potential of other sectors to export efficiently to our largest market. How is that in the “national interest”?

David Cameron could have and may still play an enabling role in the safe passage of the Euro and its constituent countries economies to an ordered recovery. It would do well, quickly and ably to start learning from its own experiences of negotiating of the past.

My fear, as argued here in the past, is that in fact this government struggles to understand the cultural mores of peoples outside its own political ecosphere (even as near as Scotland or Northern Ireland). He could do worse than put his polyglot and European friendly deputy to good use and send him (rather than blaming apolitical senior Whitehall civil servant proxies) out to prepare the ground for a more successful negotiation in the future.

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Comments (12)

  1. dwatch (profile) says:

    Has any of these five ex UUP men ever held office, or who has ever heard of them?

    “Ex-UUP men call for dissolution”

    “Former regional chairmen Harry Cullen, Roderick Oliver and Bill McKendry along with former members James McMillan and John Lund have signed a letter calling for the dissolution of the party. The quintet, who are all now members of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, want to see the formation of a new Conservative Party for Northern Ireland.

    However, the UUP has launched a stinging rebuttal to the call. “It is a bit rich for five people who are no longer members of the Ulster Unionist Party and who are now in a grouping which has not managed to get a single councillor elected – let alone an Assembly member – to call for the disbandment of the Ulster Unionist Party”, a party spokesperson said.

    “Those who have spoken out have no electoral mandate and were so committed to the future of the Ulster Unionist Party that they chose to leave.

    “Few people inside or outside the Ulster Unionist Party take them seriously, and that situation is unlikely to change.

    http://www.u.tv/News/Ex-UUP-men-call-for-dissolution/57bae3ef-5abb-4384-b5a0-3e85d3d265e6

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  2. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    I think I may have misframed the question above. Let me try again.

    If Davd Cameron, with the funds and resources he had at his disposal could not land a cash strapped UUP, why did we think he could land a much bigger deal in Europe?

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  3. FuturePhysicist (profile) says:

    Parsley makes a good point, a lot of the attention has been on needless identity politics of the UK but even the way Cameron describes the EU as a “network” rather than at least an “association” of member states is too self-serving, too self-marginalising and frankly serves neither the Europhile nor Euroskept to try to hardball the EU without any apparently clout.

    In terms of ridiculous suggestions such as “We’ll all be speaking German”, is ultimately a distraction. For one whether you follow Marx on one side or Hayek on the other your economic policy would’ve probably have been written in German first anyway, a little bit of “Die Deutsche Sprache” to actually clarify what the heck you’re talking about.

    Secondly considering how few people in British schools are learning Mandarin, Japanese, Punjabi, Hindi or Cantonese, or Russian for that matter and increasing less learning French, Spanish, German or Italian either, particularly in comparison to the other parts of the “Anglosphere” such as the US, Canada, NZ and Australia, even ROI it serves no purpose to marginalise the EU and their trade partners over linguistic differences, rather be grateful so many bothered to learn English.

    Multiculturalism didn’t cause the Eurozone crisis or the global financial crisis or sub-prime mortgages. … it was a common banking culture that didn’t diversify into much else, and the UK’s own deficit was due in part to its own trading culture too.

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  4. Is this off-topic? (I am sensitive after Mick Fealty‘s benign reprimand on another thread.)

    Yesterday’s Guardian secreted a piece by David Marquand at the bottom of a comments page.

    Marquand is not just the punch-link to the infamous Woy Jenkins “rancour” heckle, he is a bright guy and a committed Europhile. There are enough reasons for most commenters here to go into Mr Angry mode. Still, try this:

    The crisis in Britain’s relationship with mainland Europe has its roots in a peculiarly English identity crisis with no counterpart north of the border or west of the Severn. The Scots and Welsh know who they are. For centuries, they have had two identities – their own, and a wider British one. They are unfazed by the discovery of a third European identity as well. They are at home in Europe, where multiple identities are becoming the norm. To them, it seems only right that Europe’s once monolithic sovereign states now have to share power, both with a supranational union and with rediscovered nations, principalities and provinces within their borders. Along with Catalans, Basques, Flemings, Walloons, Corsicans, Sardinians and even Bretons, the Scots and Welsh are emerging from a homogenising central state of the recent past.

    I could as easily throw in the previous two paragraphs (about the hysterias of europhobia) or the subsequent one (a neat segue into “Calvinist Protestantism that hailed from Geneva, and differed profoundly from the middle way of the Church of England”).

    Marquand, who as a boy spent summers in Schull, County Cork, with his father, unfortunately doesn’t here apply his analysis to Ireland, north or south.

    Arrghh! It’s still there! Yet, thrice-armed is he who gets his retaliation in first! So:

    “Belay that talk, John Silver,” he said. “This crew has tipped you the black spot in full council, as in dooty bound; just you turn it over, as in dooty bound, and see what’s wrote there. Then you can talk.”

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  5. Cynic2 (profile) says:

    Who is Ian Parsley and what party is he in this month?

    Ian, I am sorry to tell you this but sometimes in politics Politicians have to stand up for National Self Interest and act on conviction. not hollow rhetoric.

    What we saw in the summit was a shameful attempt by the French to hobble the UK Financial Sevrices industry to support thei own crippled, bloated and inefficient financial sector. Naked French self interst wrapped in a European Flag at a time of European Crisis? Sureley not from that exemplary politician and man of honour Sarkozy!!

    So Cameron was utterly right to refuse to be drawn further into this mess. And what a mess it is. The Markets have alreday rumbled that what the 26 have agreed is – wel nothing. Or to be more precise they have agreed that at a later date and subject to agremenet they will agree to an agreement but the details will have to then be agreed.

    The timescales for this are either January or June or December 2012 depending on who is speaking. National Governments may be allowed some input but citizens will not – no point in allowing that democracy thing when we have a crisis to solve and just a year or two of banquets to agree and agreement. In any case it will be good preparation for the looming time when the whole system is run by a Brussels elite who dont need any pesky electiosn to botehr them.

    Cameron may also have taken the quite sanguine viewpoint that there was no point in signing a non dela that is about the spectacularly fail. Post New Year the Euro will be toast.

    I dont say this with any sense of glee or pleasure. France is one my favourite countries in the world. I am a Europhile. I want to see Euriope work as a place that enriches the lives and pockets of its people. But sadly it has failed. We are all about to pay a huge price for this and for the hubris of the new Napoleon in Paris.

    I almost wish that the collapse of the Euro is delayed until after the French elections – but solely for the pleasure of seeing him publicly squirm for the next 4 years

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  6. Cynic2 (profile) says:

    “If Davd Cameron, with the funds and resources he had at his disposal could not land a cash strapped UUP, why did we think he could land a much bigger deal in Europe?”

    The more fundamental questions are

    1 why did he want the UUP?

    2 the udnerlying assumption that the UUP was capable to agreeing anything with anyone

    Above all Cameron failed to realsie that, as he and Paterson are not from Fermanagh, they had no chance of success

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  7. The French presidential term is five years, with a limit of two terms. That doesn’t build my confidence in the rest of the over-confident assertions of Cynic2 @ 11:52 am.

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  8. 241934 john brennan (profile) says:

    The big irony is that after Cameron decided unilaterally to veto Europe without consulting the devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (the latter led by the DUP’s Peter Robinison) the DUP’s Nigel Dodds proposed the Westminster motion praising Cameron. The end of the DUP/SF duopoly and the beginning of a CON/DUP alliance?

    Another irony is that Cameron also ignored Northern Ireland’s three silent anti-European MEPs, including Mrs Dodds.

    A further irony is that when John Hume was very publically supporting the European Union and bringing home the EEC bacon, agricultural grants, ‘Peace funds’ etc, he insisted on sharing the credit with biggest anti-European of the, lot Ian Paisley

    Speaking in opposition to the DUP motion in the House of Commons (Dec 13) which commended the PM’s actions, Margaret Ritchie said: “Not only did [David Cameron] appear to fail to consult his coalition partners; more importantly from our perspective in Northern Ireland, he failed to consult any of the devolved Administrations, despite the fact that his actions could have profound implications for those jurisdictions.
    “I ask the Government seriously to consider those implications in the medium and long term, because there are many economic, financial and social benefits to membership of the European Union.

    “Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land and sea border with the eurozone. We are entitled to be consulted about any UK Government action that fundamentally impacts on the UK’s relationship with the eurozone.

    “Anything short of that is, frankly, disrespectful.
    “I hope that the Government will bring forward a solution this evening and tell us that the Prime Minister will return to the negotiating table and not turn his back on the European Union again, or the opportunities that could be there for us all.”

    Speaking afterwards, Ms Ritchie said: “The principal concern for us is the unilateralism of the Prime Minister’s approach to this issue.

    “The arrogance and thoughtlessness of using the veto – a move of great seriousness – as a sop to hardliners in his own party and City bankers who helped cause the financial crisis is bad enough.

    “But to do so without recourse to any of the devolved governments, especially in Northern Ireland, which is so close to the Eurozone, is an insult to the Northern Ireland Executive and the people of the North of Ireland.

    “As I said in the House, we hope that fresh and fruitful negotiations with our European partners will be entered into by the Prime Minister, with a view to securing the best deal and not just playing to the Eurosceptic gallery.”

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  9. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    What we saw in the summit was a shameful attempt by the French to hobble the UK Financial Sevrices industry to support thei own crippled, bloated and inefficient financial sector.

    Can you illuminate us on exactly what hobbling did those nasty French had in mind ? I haven’t seen them yet. I suspect Dave hasn’t seen them either.

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  10. 241934 john brennan @ 12:05 pm implies the nightmare scenario, were Cameron’s arm to be twisted so far up his back to discover any residue of backbone. It goes like this (“bombastically and terminally”, as Rambling Sid Rump might insert):
    — The ‘phobes get their referendum, on their “bulldog” terms;
    — Tories are dragooned into voting “Yes” for withdrawal;
    — Labour, SNP, LibDems and Plaid (all being opportunist and armed with squoodles of City and business money) urge “No”;
    — England (and thereby a majority of the UK&NI) get their way;
    —Scotland and Wales vote to stay in.

    Or as David Marquand (see earlier post) had it:

    The English doctrine of absolute parliamentary sovereignty runs against the grain of the rediscovered provincialism of modern Europe. Above all, the English of the 21st century no longer know who they are. They used to think that “English” and “British” were synonymous. Now they know that they are not. But they don’t know how Englishness and Britishness relate to each other, and they can’t get used to the notion of multiple identities. Until they do, I don’t see how the crisis in Britain’s relationship with continental Europe can be resolved. If it isn’t, the most likely prospect is of further European political union and the break-up of the UK, with England staying out and Scotland and Wales going in.

    Insert references to NI unionists (of any colour and complexion) as one feels appropriate.

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  11. IJP (profile) says:

    cynic

    I think you rather make my point.

    In the same way that some Unionists have this innate sense that the “mainland British” are somehow out to “get them” (when actually they give them very little thought), some on the British Right have this sense that the “mainland Europeans” are somehow out to “get them” (when actually likewise).

    If this really was to do with the City, then that just makes Cameron look worse of course. The whole point is we are going to have to live without the City anyway, because it creates very little real wealth (we’ve had four years to work that one out) – the sooner we get used to it the better.

    But actually I don’t think it was anything to do with the City at all. I think it was all to do with two men who have no idea how (or what) to negotiate, both of whom were prioritising politics over real policy.

    Just my view, of course, and who the hell am I?! At least you didn’t mention Churchill, that serial Liberal-Conservative switcher…! :)

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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  12. FuturePhysicist (profile) says:

    Quite right IJP, even assuming the negotiating position was deliberately “fuzzy” for some sort of competitive advantage/exit strategy over the European Union/Eurozone crisis not to play his hand completely he has almost put his hands up instead rather than put his fist down or make a handshake.

    It is a bit strange he talks about wanting a more competitive Europe when he’s clearly playing a non-competitive game. The Question really becomes, is everyone else in Europe doing the same thing?

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