From the point of view of historical curiosity, it is a pity that the great Victorian statesman predeceased the era of global summits. What would Palmerston or Melbourne have made of the pageantry? What might they have said to permeate it? Would they have wanted to? Modern British Prime Ministers have moulded themselves on the world stage: Blair as a liberal interventionist, Brown as a Keynesian. Judging by an article David Cameron has written in the Globe and Mail, he hopes to lead the world to fiscal re-trenchment and inaugurate lasting and real prosperity through free trade. Once again, Cameron’s premiership appears to be descended from Gladstone.
Cameron insists that these international shindigs must deliver tangible results for voters, and he writes: ‘I believe we must each start by setting out plans for getting our national finances under control. In Britain this week, we showed how we will start to live within our means again. It’s an approach that the entire G20 now recognizes is crucial to revitalize our economies... we must continue to press for the real stimulus that our economies need: trade. Trade is the greatest wealth-creator ever known.’
Cameron’s political instincts are astute. The verbose treatises that Brown penned for these days of pomp were written for Geithner and Bernanke, not the voters. The reverse is true of Cameron. His article is written for a British audience acclimatising to austerity. The government scored a major PR victory at the recent meeting of G20 finance ministers, where the world adopted George Osborne’s fiscal approach. Cameron calculates that a sceptical domestic audience will be convinced, or at least nullified, by the universal adoption of cuts. President Obama’s opposition remains an impediment, but Cameron has support from Sarkozy, Merkel and Harper of Canada.