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.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty