John Kampfner: A victory for style over substance

Summits can be important. But there is nothing magical about them

Share

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin carved up Europe at Yalta. Reagan and Gorbachev almost gave up their nukes at Reykjavik. Some summits make history. The personal chemistry between leaders can produce extraordinary and unpredictable outcomes. They also produce great pictures: the walks in the woods and the fireside chats. As for the clothes, who can forget George Bush's leather jacket, Tony Blair's fingers jabbed inside his excessively tight jeans or Vladimir Putin's reflector shades?

The problem, however, is that most of the time these meetings promise far more than they deliver – though what they invariably achieve is a temporary injection of gravitas for prime ministers and presidents. It is no surprise that Blair allowed hubris to get the better of him. As he later admitted, who wouldn't prefer global grandstanding and glad-handing to the turgid work of public-service reform?

David Cameron has fallen into the same trap, seeing travel-schmoozing as an escape from the drudgery back home. For a Eurosceptic, he seemed curiously to enjoy his get-togethers with Nicolas Sarkozy, particularly when they were flexing their muscles over Libya. Such was Cameron's sympathy for the incumbent, he allowed that to get the better of his judgement and snubbed his rival, François Hollande, during the French election campaign. Now he is having to play catch up for his affections.

Inevitably, the Brits gravitate towards the Americans. They might start out by pledging a more sober relationship, but they can't seem to help themselves. So Dave and Barack bond by cooking burgers on the Downing Street lawn. Next minute, they're being all blokey at Camp David.

The journalists covering these events play along with the hype. Thus in one Sunday paper, we had the curious headline: "Cameron and Obama lead charge to save the eurozone". The only problem with that is that neither country is in the eurozone and, beyond exhortations, has no clout with the European Central Bank.

Perhaps the reporters don't travel enough to give them a sense of proportion. In their keenness to inject "colour", they produce lines such as: "Mr Cameron and Mr Obama started the day in the Camp David gym, discussing the global economy as they ran side-by-side."

These meetings can be important. Face time is valuable. But there is nothing magical or elevated about them. If summits focused on the substance, rather than the style, world leaders might actually get more done. But that would be to deprive journalists of their photo opportunities and politicians their moments in the sun.

John Kampfner is author of 'Blair's Wars' and 'Freedom For Sale'; twitter@johnkampfner

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee