After a week on the rack over Maria Miller David Cameron was finally able to relax with a nice easy task today: launching a campaign for an election on an issue over which his party is irrevocably split and in which it's widely predicted to come third.
Undaunted, he began his big European election speech with an upbeat message. “I'm delighted to be here in the light of such good news… “(What on earth could this be, we wondered)... for Manchester-those new Cathay Pacific routes between here and Hong Kong!”
Since we were at Manchester Airport, this was a good start. And to be fair he did everything he could to excite the party faithful: this was ”a once in a generation opportunity“; the Conservatives were up against “two extremist camps” (which may be all right about UKIP but is less than kind about his LibDem coalition partners, but then this an election) those that ”hate the European union Union“ and those who “love” it; normally he gave people ”three things” to say on the doorstep, but this time, so stunning was the Tory message that he had a ”magnificent seven things“ to confront the unsuspecting voters with.
Never mind that this was a lot for the poor activists to remember, let alone for the electors to listen to before they slammed their front doors and decided like 66 percent of those eligible last time, not to vote at all. The main theme of all this-along with equally exciting slogans in the glossy new manifesto like “No to ever closer union!” and “Yes to turbo-charging trade!” - was that the Tories alone could deliver ”real change” in Europe.
Except that at least some of the Big Things that he was boasting about having done or promising to do involved not so much “real change” as “no change”. No to a European prosecutor. No to a European military HQ. And, he explained, Britain had not only managed to get the EU budget cut “for the first time in 56 years” but it had stopped the Brussels bureaucrats from introducing legislation to make more difficult ”the extraction of shale gas“. (Interpretative note: the PM uses this phrase because it is considered not to have the negative connotations of fracking”, which is what it means.)
He even claimed that “if you want to keep Britain out of the single currency and protect our interests - you've got to vote Conservative” because the other parties were “not sure” about it. Hang on though, Prime Minister. It's not exactly a risky bet that no-one else will be campaigning over the next five weeks to join the euro. Not even that “extremist”, Nick Clegg.