Yesterday, David Cameron finally ran out of excuses and got round to delivering his speech about the European Union.
It was rubbish. You probably know that already. But it’s important to understand why it was rubbish.
As Liberal Democrat MEP Bill Newton Dunn pointed out, some positive introductory remarks were nullified by a need to play to the eurosceptic gallery.
But the most important failing of Cameron’s speech is this: the mechanism he proposes for achieving what he wants is not practical. Worse, it is counter-productive. Worse still, it is impractical and counter-productive because the speech was more a PR stunt than anything else.
If Cameron were sincere about reforming the EU, he would have built an alliance within the EU to achieve his policy goals. He would have developed a practical long-term reform programme and persuaded other countries to join him.
Instead, Cameron took his party out of the EPP, the largest group of parties in the EU, which has isolated him from the influential centre-right parties that might otherwise have supplied the support he needs.
Since leaving the EPP, Cameron has done nothing constructive to win friends and influence people. Rather, he is holding a gun to the other EU members’ heads. The trouble is, it’s the sort of gun that circus clowns use. When you press the trigger, a banner unfurls that says “Bang!”
This is fitting, because it was also a circus clown’s speech – not because Cameron thinks Europe will be impressed by having a custard pie pushed in its face but because he knows it will amuse his antediluvian backbenchers.
The speech had little to do with Europe and everything to do with the internal politics of the Conservative Party. Cameron’s overriding needs are to maintain party unity and prevent elderly Daily Express-reading voters deserting to UKIP. Britain’s long-term political, economic and diplomatic interests are secondary.
The speech also suggests the Liberal Democrat ‘exit strategy’ for ending the coalition: we should run away from the circus to join the world.