by Stephen Tall on February 4, 2016
Much deserved mockery greeted the Daily Mail’s portentous front page plea for a plucky patriot to take up cudgels on behalf of Brexit:
Today the Mail asks a question of profound significance to our destiny as a sovereign nation and the fate of our children and grandchildren. Who will speak for England?
To which there is only one answer, and it’s an answer as uncomfortable to the right-wing Mail as it is to the right-on Twitter crowd: David Cameron speaks for England. And I say that as someone who views his re-negotiations as, largely, a sham.
Like most of the rest of the voting public I’ve been quite busy with Real Life this week, and so haven’t followed the ins and outs of the Prime Minister’s deal. I’ve heard snippets about “red card vetoes” and “emergency brakes”. My basic impression is that he’s not got an awful lot out of it, but probably got as good as he was going to.
And I suspect that’s how it’ll end up being viewed by most of the British public, too.
(As an immigration-lover I deprecate his efforts to strike a tough pose on an issue like migrant benefits he knows is a near-irrelevance; after all, immigrants pay in to this country far, far in excess of what they take out. But I understand I’m in a small minority of voters who thinks like this, and so I also understand why Mr Cameron did it.)
The closest Gordon Brown ever got to defining his Britishness in a way that wasn’t cringey was in his his first speech as Prime Minister when he quoted, with endearing awkwardness, his school motto, ‘I will try my utmost’. What it lacked in inspiration it made up for in genuineness.
We like our leaders to try their best, be seen to try their best. Their actual achievements are pretty secondary as long they’re basically competent and the economy’s ticking along.
Mr Cameron’s decaffeinated negotiations are, it feels, an insipid, British version of what Greece’s Alexis Tsipras attempted last year: issue an ultimatum to try and bluff your opponents into thinking you might actually dare to torpedo the entire Euro project in the hope they might concede more than they otherwise would. And then sell that deal, no matter how far short it falls, as the best possible.
In fact, Mr Cameron has triangulated himself into the ideal position. As he very smartly remarked after the televised Clegg-Farage Euro debate in March 2014: “Nick thinks there’s nothing wrong with Europe and we shouldn’t have a referendum, and Nigel thinks there’s nothing right with Europe and we should just get out and leave. They’re both wrong.”
Cameron’s the leader who’s gone out and batted for Britain. He might not have scored a century but it was a useful knock. Like it or not, those of us who support ‘Bremain’ are lucky he’s on our team.
The chap did what he could, tried his damnedest. And you can’t get more British – sorry, Daily Mail: English – than that.