As the EU budget deal is digested and argued over by MEPs, Young Dave has, by all accounts, had a jolly good time in Brussels. There has been a real terms cut in that budget for the first time ever, the dastardly garlic-crunching French have been marginalised, and the Cameron reputation as a statesman has been well and truly established – and enhanced.
So how did Dave do it? And will it help him back at Westminster? Well, the first part is easy to answer: there was no walking out. Cameron needed to look no further than the actions of his two predecessors here. Margaret Thatcher always stayed at the table, always remained in the game. Yes, she played hardball with the French and Germans, but she stuck to her task and never quit the process.
Likewise “Shagger” Major, whose services have been made available to Young Dave since the latter arrived in Downing Street. Major was quieter and more outgoing towards other European leaders than Mrs T., but he was equally tenacious. Their approaches have been – at last – taken on board by Cameron. And this time, he has made sure that the UK was not isolated.
That meant making friends, building alliances. Here, there were other leaders of like mind, not wanting to concede budget increases in difficult times. The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden: all were in our corner. With Cameron’s courtship of Angela Merkel, the Germans came down on our side. So is this a complete success, and will it make a difference for the Tories?
No, and not very much: the UK’s contributions to the EU will most likely still increase, but not by as much. Here, there will be much blaming of Tone, but as the effect of that increase when divided among all taxpayers is hardly measurable, it won’t affect individuals’ pockets to the extent that they care. And that is why the EU is not the biggest deal for voters, and why there is limited benefit on the doorstep.
After all, the entire budget is less than 1% of Gross National Income (GNI), and while Cameron makes claims about bringing it below the 1% figure, it was headed that way anyhow. And the European Parliament has yet to rubber-stamp the agreed figures, plus they’re making noises suggesting unhappiness. The triumphant tone in some Tory supporting papers could be premature.
Young Dave will get a Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) boost from his victory. But Labour will not be unduly fussed: soon enough, the voters will have forgotten and it will be back to an economy bumping along the bottom – not helped by decreasing EU spending. What goes around, comes around.