Fraser Nelson

Where we are now

Where we are now
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Reading through the paper's this morning, it's even clearer that we didn't learn much from that marathon Europe debate yesterday. But here are my thoughts, anyway, on where it leaves us:

1) Ed Miliband lacked credibility from the outset. As Malcolm Rifkind put it, he’s had three days to work out whether he’d have signed that Treaty or not — and he still can’t make his mind up. God knows Cameron is vulnerable on this, but he won’t be hurt being attacked for indecision by a man who still cant make any decisions.

2) Clegg’s misjudgment, cont? First, Clegg backed Cameron after the veto. Now, he says he disagrees with Cameron. To stay away from parliament is the worst of all, it looks like cowardice (today’s Mail calls it ‘The Big Sulk’). It looks like a man being led by his party. Or worried about being outflanked by Paddy Ashdown, who seems to have gone into meltdown. Cameron, meanwhile, looked all the more like a conquering hero in the chamber yesterday — not defensive at all. Even questions from Lib Dems like Ming Campbell were supportive. Perhaps Clegg is so embarrassed about calling Britain a ‘pygmy’ on Sunday's Marr show (an error so grave that it requires no elaboration) that he thought it best to keep a low profile. But it looked dreadful.

3) The Lib Dems won’t trigger an election, as they’d probably finish behind UKIP. Cameron did not betray them, he went in with a pre-agreed strategy and dropped his own pledge to argue for repatriation of powers. Sarkozy thwarted that — no point blaming the PM, who acted honourably. The latest projections suggest the Lib Dems would lose two of every three seats held. You can bet they’re in no rush to test that out.

4) Labour MPs had no strategy. You’d think that, by now, Labour would have twigged that Cameron is always vulnerable on detail. Yesterday should have been a forensic cross-examination. Could the Prime Minister explain precisely what was his maximum concession was on the night? Was there an attempt to go down the Protocol 12 Route? What happened to the Sherpas? Aren’t they supposed to do all this in advance? Jack Straw and Beverley Hughes came close to this level of questioning, but most Labour MPs tried to make some political attack — which Cameron effortlessly battled away.

5) We learned nothing. I’d have hoped to have found out more details about what went on that night in Brussels. But we’re still none the wiser. The picture is still being slowly assembled: cock-up? Conspiracy? Is Cameron the Eurosceptic Messiah or a Very Naughty Boy? We should know more by the end of the week, but no thanks to MPs.

6) The Lib Dems best be careful who they call ‘bastards’. Paddy Ashdown said on Sky’s Murnaghan show on Sunday, ‘Major had the courage to stand up to his bastards’. The clear implication was that Cameron didn’t. Lord Ashdown then left a comment on a Coffee House post saying the b-word was, famously, Major’s — but his analogy is still weak. Cameron was not bullied by a minority, but was hemmed in by public opinion, enforced through the October rebellion of the 81 rebels. Most were new MPs who rebelled because they felt duty to their constituents trumped fealty to the coalition. Even Lord Ashdown should realise that just two-in-five Brits agree with our EU membership, just one-in-three think it has benefited us (and that’s the EU’s own data). The ‘bastards’ that Ashdown is referring to are, in this case, the British voters. On Marr, Clegg caricatured the man on the street’s reaction as a desire to ‘stick two fingers up to Brussels’. That’s unworthy of him. It may well be that Lib Dems think the public can’t be trusted to understand an issue as complex as Europe. But it’s dangerous to admit this. Lack of respect is normally mutual.

7) Meanwhile, the Eurozone is still unraveling. Italian bond yields are up to 6.79 per cent as Monti’s technocrats seem to lack the requisite Bunga Bunga. The German government may have to bail out Commerzbank, which itself could be a wobbling domino. Last Thursday was a cynical power grab by the French and Germans, doing nothing to help the debt crisis which is now ongoing.

8) And the EU may start to take out its revenge on Britain. They’re making out as if Cameron wants no regulation on the City — whereas he just wants British regulation (in terms of capital requirements, it’s actually more than Brussels proposes). This has become a power game, and Brussels seems determined to win (see the latest developments). Such antagonism will make it harder to save our EU membership.

9) Does Merkel wants another summit before Christmas? I just heard this last night, and cannot assume that it’s a joke. But Thursday’s deal did nothing to resolve the debt crisis (the IMF thing was a proposal, and one hotly disputed). The Americans are refusing to put any money into it, and the withdrawal of American finance from the European situation is graver than any diplomatic hiccup.

10) Let’s have the next EU Crisis Meeting at the O2 Centre. We should not get used to a series of ‘crisis’ summits — and we should at least vary it by changing the venue and format. Rather than a 7pm dinner in Brussels, the next EU Crisis summit could be at the O2 Centre, headlined by the Glee cast, and you could sell tickets. This may do more to stem the Eurozone debt crisis than anything these EU leaders are capable of agreeing.