The eccentric Cameron

Commentary

During the last four years, Cameron has performed all kinds of juggling acts to simultaneously keep three balls in the air with two hands.

The article was originally published in Spanish by El Pais on the 7/5/2015

“Of a strange, bizarre nature”, explains the Royal Spanish Academy dictionary, and “to deviate from the norm or have a different norm”. Both definitions of ‘eccentric’ serve to describe this moment in British politics. Also valid is the third meaning offered by the Academy: “Circus performer that seeks comic effect through strange acts”, a definition that could well be applied to Prime Minister David Cameron, who has just secured the right to continue residing in 10 Downing Street.

During the last four years, Cameron has performed all kinds of juggling acts to simultaneously keep three balls in the air with two hands. The first ball is Europe. There, Cameron has tried to convince the British public that he is capable of leading a negotiating process to improve the position of the UK in the EU and strengthen its influence. He has promised to force his European colleagues to design a law tailored to the UK (or tailored to the British Conservatives, victims of their historical Euroscepticism and now, of the Europhobic populism spearheaded by Nigel Farage’s UKIP).

It matters little that the European leaders have repeatedly told him they aren’t prepared to negotiate the Treaty. No, in the face of such rebuttals, Cameron has decided to raise the bar higher and adopt an all-or-nothing approach with his colleagues on the continent. The result? His initial plan to hold a referendum to ensure the permanent position of the UK within the EU may well end up achieving the opposite, removing it from the project. The second ball is Scotland. Here too, Cameron has been a master tactician and short term bargainer. His refusal to negotiate devolution of power to Scotland led him to present the Scots with a referendum of the same binary nature (“independence or nothing”). But when he saw that the Scots were leaning towards independence, he offered a package of competencies much greater than it would have been following a negotiation.

The third ball has been immigration. Instead of showcasing the statistics that reveal Britain to be a net winner, not loser, in the free movement of people within the EU, he has preferred to pander to the demagoguery and fear promulgated by Nigel Farage, determinedly labeling immigrants as lazy abusers of the British welfare system, or simply, outright criminals. Today the British decided on whether they wanted this juggler to continue in power. Let’s see what tricks he has up his sleeve next.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.

Read more on: European Power, Cohesion & Governance, Britain in Europe, London office

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