Juncker fiasco: why is David Cameron inept on world stage?
Like England’s professional footballers, our newly professional politicians fail away from home
What do David Cameron and Bing Crosby have in common? Well, both men at crucial points in their lives ended up humiliated and embarrassed by a combination of poor judgment and poor planning that produced the opposite of the outcomes they desired.
Bing fell madly in love with Grace Kelly, his co-star in the 1954 film Country Girl (for which she was to win her only Oscar.) According to some accounts they had a passionate affair and Bing, whose wife had died a couple of years before from cancer, decided to propose.
He arranged to take her out for dinner at one of Hollywood’s swankiest restaurants. She assumed she was just going out on a routine date with her current boyfriend. But when they arrived at the restaurant there were no other guests – just thousands of red roses and Hollywood’s top swing band playing romantic music. When he produced an engagement ring the good lady bugged out. Bing sat alone in the restaurant afterwards downing a succession of Martinis.
He seems not to have thought more than one move ahead – how he might stay in the game, still achieve his aim if she proved initially reluctant. Nor did he give Grace Kelly a fallback position. She was frightened off, transferring her affections a few months later to Marlon Brando who took an eager but less sentimental view of her considerable charms.
But even 60 years later one can sympathise with Bing. Grace Kelly was the most beautiful Hollywood actress, ever – truly, in the words of Raymond Chandler, “a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window”.
At least Bing Crosby ended up only humiliating himself rather than his country as well, as David Cameron has done over his amateur operation to prevent Jean Claude Juncker from becoming President of the European Commission.
The Juncker fiasco is just the latest in Cameron’s bulging portfolio of misjudgments. To take one example, only a fool would have agreed to exclude those born in Scotland but not currently resident there from the now imminent referendum on Scottish independence. Surely all Scotsmen and women should have been eligible to vote.
There is an uneasy and depressing comparison between our Prime Minister and the England football team so resoundingly outplayed in Brazil. Many of the team play wonderfully for their clubs but turn out to be duds when playing in an international tournament. Same detail for Dave: a man with an impressive record at climbing the snake-entwined greasy pole of party politics, finely calculating every twist and turn to get ahead, but less effective when representing his country.
To be fair, it’s not just him – his two predecessors were just the same. Tony Blair’s negotiating skills on behalf of his country were laughable. We offered military and diplomatic backing to the American invasion of Iraq without any conditions or concessions for UK plc. It looks highly likely that Blair signed a blank cheque without the authorisation of the cabinet or parliament and there may be a written record of it – hence the difficulties in releasing the record of the relevant Bush/Blair meetings to the Chilcot Inquiry.
It was the same with the Good Friday Agreement: there was little negotiation with the IRA, just endless concessions – in secret of course, as we are now discovering, in case anyone smelt a rat.
Needless to say Blair’s negotiating skills on his own behalf since leaving office appear to be highly professional. Amateur hour where your country’s interests are at stake: oh so sharp when it comes to negotiating a price for your own services.
Gordon Brown was even worse, unable to conduct even a basic financial transaction to his country’s advantage. Between 1999 and 2002, Brown sold 60 per cent of the UK's gold reserves (395 tonnes) for an average of $275.6 an ounce, only to see prices subsequently rise to above $1,600. The current price in New York is $1,315.70.
And infamously having expended his entire energies scheming to bring down a properly elected prime minister only halfway through his term of office, Brown appeared to have no idea what he wanted to do with the job when he finally got it.
The process of professionalisation that kicked off in the West in the early 18th Century has in general produced higher standards. This has been true across the board – doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, parsons, soldiers and so on. They are expected to pass exams, uphold certain standards and be competent in certain areas.
It is a paradox that the recent emergence of a completely professional political class seems to have had the opposite effect.