Juncker fiasco: why is David Cameron inept on world stage?

Like England’s professional footballers, our newly professional politicians fail away from home

Column LAST UPDATED AT 10:21 ON Fri 27 Jun 2014

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. · 

Disqus - noscript

re the headline Q - same reason that he's inept on the domestic front, he's an overelevated, under qualified, utterly incompetent airhead with that sense of entitlement imbued in thatcher's children but born too late to get his snout in the trough, only dregs remain.

Crispy - "in the 18th century"?!? Did you mean the 1800s, ie the 19thC?

If Cameron had had the support of the other nations which don't want Junker there might well have been a different story for Crispin Black to write rather than the cheap left-wing character assassination he has penned here. There were several member nations who disavowed Junker's autocratic, died-in-the-wool federalism and his well reported liking for too much alcohol but when push came to shove they were coerced by the collective power of the traditionalist EU centre parties into submission. They may well live to regret that in the next few years! I have no doubt that it will do us no favours. Barroso was a Marxist before moderating to a slightly milder form of socialism and he was no friend of the UK.
There is an overwhelming need for fundamental change in the EU but without a reformer at the helm the likelihood of that happening is remote. Without those changes the EU will continue to become ever more costly and ever less competitive in world markets from where true growth,prosperity and employment could be obtained.

...Cameron is simply NOT up to the job! He is silver-tongued when he needs to be but he lacks conviction, judgement, respect from his domestic audience and, just as importantly, respect from his counterparts at the EU table. It is doubtful that Cameron could hold down a meaningful job outside politics, such is his lack of experience or of life skills - and, of course, he is certainly not alone at Westminster in that respect.

For Howard T to describe Crispin Black's comments as a "Left Wing character assassination" is to somewhat misjudge the wider mood in this country. I am a little to the Right of Atilla the Hun yet I utterly despise Cameron for his mendacity, continuing poor judgement, complete absence of negotiating skills on behalf of UK plc and (may I stop here please?).

Another example of poor judgement by Cameron would be if he were to decide to debate with Nigel Farage - now that WOULD be entertaining!

The vast majority of our politicians are barely competent,they have never had real jobs or to work for anything,it doesn't matter what party they belong to,their only concern and intetest is getting re-elected in 5 years time.We need to seriously change the rules and requirements for MP's,they must have lived in their constituency for five years,they must hold a job out of politics for five years,there should be a limit on how long they can be MP's,no second homes,a hotel could be purchased and every member could have his/her own room,and so on.

HT - "the cheap left-wing character assassination he (Crispy?!?) has penned here."
I have some leave coming up, would it be possible to visit your planet for a laugh?

I don't think it's leave you need but education maybe.

Wouldn't it be nice if, one day, we stopped believing that electing ex-Etonians is an automatic marker of competence?

You have a point. The other Juncker doubters fell for a classic EU back room deal and sat on their hands. Our EU pals never fail to aim for the gold standard when it comes to duplicity. More fool them - the turkeys have just voted for Christmas!

Totally agree.