Archie Bland: Fate of nations shouldn't hang on PM's toilet breaks

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It's hard to think of a perfect method for conducting the affairs of state, but one thing seems pretty clear: if you were trying to set out the ground rules, you'd probably say that any system which could leave the future of a continent resting on a prime-ministerial bladder should be discounted immediately.

Unfortunately, the system we have is not perfect. It relies heavily on international summits: meetings in which leaders get together to thrash out the terms of vital deals. In Brussels last Thursday night, one of the participants was our very own David Cameron. Mr Cameron, it is said, swears by a "full-bladder technique" that he feels keeps him in a state of productive tension.

And so it was that when he abandoned negotiations over the future of the euro, leaving Britain outside of the most important talks about the currency and the Continent in the last decade, he was absolutely bursting for a pee. I wouldn't even give him a lift in my car under those circumstances, much less entrust him with our future economic well-being.

Whether he might have taken a more moderate path if he could have held on a little longer is not clear. But what the vignette does point up – terrifyingly – is the strangeness of the role personal foibles play in such seismic events.

The same was true of the climate talks in Durban, where the result was a little better, thank goodness – but just as dependent on the idiosyncrasies of a tiny group of people, many of them more interested in their domestic political agenda than the future of the planet. If it hadn't been for the resourcefulness of the South African Foreign Minister, who bashed some recalcitrant heads together just when all seemed lost, the meeting could have broken up in a way that made Brussels look like a triumph.

It is, of course, way more exciting when the path of human history depends on the whims of a few people locked in a room. But it doesn't seem like a very good idea. Most of the time, such summits are mere handshaking exercises, with the key points mapped out far in advance; that makes them pretty dull, but it also means that the fate of nations is agonised over in a situation of relative calm.

You know things are bad when we ask our politicians to make decisions under pressure, in the full knowledge that a baying press will greet whatever answer they come up with. Probably it doesn't happen unless it has to. Still, it doesn't seem too much to ask that they try to keep a clear head and remove the unpredictable elements before they get started. They could start by going to the toilet first.

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