John Kampfner: A victory for style over substance

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


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

Nursery Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Nursery Assistants RequiredNursery Assis...

Supply Teachers needed in Bolton!

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

English Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: ENGLISH TEACHER REQUIREDWe are ...

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger  

Will Cuddlr do for hugging what Tinder and Grindr did for sex?

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
Retail store Joy has sparked a social media backlash with its response to a customer who said one of its cards is offensive to people with bipolar  

Hey Joy, mocking people with bipolar isn't funny — it's offensive

Ellabell Risbridger
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments