What a terrible week it must have been. There he was: out-manoeuvred by a politically decrepit octogenarian; isolated in the very organisation he sought to lead; forced to give up the great symbol of the British position in Europe. He had allowed himself to be organised by Poland's hunger for subsidies; he had connived in the Common Agricultural Policy that keeps starvation in the Third World. And most damagingly of all, he came home bathed in the praise of French ministers. What sort of British politician could survive that? Would he slither into the chamber on his belly, commit hara-kiri on the despatch box and heave his offal at the Tories with a fat wet noise before expiring?
As we say in England, au contraire. His statement was the single most audacious defence we've heard at the despatch box for many years.
It seems we are to be proud of enlarging the European Union. Our rebate is to go up. Our contributions will be going down. We shall now be paying half (£7.2bn) what they wanted us to pay six months ago (£15.3bn). The French have been punished brutally and will be paying more than double their current contributions (sacré bleu!). And there will be a fundamental review of the entire structure of the EU budget in a couple of years' time. But most important: the moral position has been secured. The purpose of the budget was for rich countries to give money to poor ones. Thus, although our rebate has gone up and our contributions have gone down we are investing heavily in those who need it most.
Brilliantly, do you see?, he has construed these negotiations as a fundamental critique of the Tory party: "We take from the rich and give to the poor. They say they are in favour of enlargement but they don't want to pay for it!"
That is the line that Cameron needs to address smartly. He needs half a dozen replies and counter-replies dancing round the Prime Minister's theme. "They say they are in favour of health/education/the vulnerable but they don't want to put the money in!"
Cameron needs to flog his philosophers, phrase- makers, speech writers, aphorists to get on top of this argument by the time Parliament resumes.
On this occasion, he displayed a wisdom beyond his years and stayed out of harm's way. He didn't win particularly (nobody can beat the Prime Minister at the linguistics of an EU summit) but he didn't lose. Perhaps the Tory leader might, as the Prime Minister so daringly did, have construed the event in terms of domestic politics: "You promise investment tagged to reform; experience shows you put the money in but get rock-all back in return." But at least he was left standing.
But it might be that the hunted Prime Minister is suddenly out hunting? The Tories really need to keep moving.Reuse content