Cameron interrupts holiday No 2 to take his place in the limelight


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This time David Cameron didn't mind interrupting his holiday. Two weeks after cutting short his main summer break in Tuscany because of the riots, the Prime Minister broke another family holiday in Cornwall to handle Britain's response to the dramatic endgame in Libya.

After taking a high-stakes gamble by calling for international intervention six months ago, Mr Cameron could hardly be blamed for wanting a share of the limelight when Muammar Gaddafi's regime finally crumbled.

Yesterday Mr Cameron addressed TV crews outside Downing Street and was quick to speak by telephone to Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC). But other leaders were similarly determined to grab the credit in what became a rather unseemly race. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, invited Mr Jalil for talks in Paris tomorrow. France plans to host a meeting next week of the "contact group" of nations trying to stabilise Libya since the anti-Gaddafi uprising began. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, whose country was Colonel Gaddafi's strongest EU ally until it switched sides in April, said he would meet Mr Jalil in Italy.

In the long run, this game of diplomatic sharp elbows should not overshadow the significant joint effort by the UK and France; they took the lead in sorting out a problem in Europe's backyard rather than relying on the US. This can only make the growing Anglo-French co-operation on defence happen more quickly.

The sense of relief among Mr Cameron allies was palpable. Ministers have been constantly briefed by their officials that Colonel Gaddafi would be toppled eventually. But they were becoming increasingly impatient as the Libyan dictator clung on and the cost of the British operation soared.

There was no crowing or complacency from Mr Cameron yesterday. He acknowledged that "no transition is ever smooth or easy" and that "there will undoubtedly be difficult days ahead". But there is a genuine hope in Downing Street that the NTC will both respect human rights and learn from the disastrous aftermath of the Iraq conflict.