David Cameron’s wonderfully fantastic superb victory (as scripted some weeks before the event)

21 Feb

There was something very scripted about David Cameron’s EU negotiations on Thursday and Friday of last week. It is as though the media unit of 10 Downing Street sat down beforehand and wrote the script. It went as follows:

Thursday Morning: Plucky David Cameron faces tough negotiations against the massive EU bureaucracy and various politicians from EU member states that want to protect their vested interests;

Thursday Afternoon: The leaders from members states are putting up stout resistance to Cameron’s common-sense ‘reforms’ but Cameron is persistent;

Friday Morning: Stories are released during the talks that show that the negotiations are tough but Cameron is prepared to hold-out. So we are told that Cameron had only 4 hours sleep on Thursday/Friday night and that UK negotiators needed ‘proper teabags’ to keep them going through the night;

Friday Afternoon: Downing Street – which usually only releases upbeat stories about how well everything is going – issues press releases mentioning that there are delays and that a deal is in jeopardy;

Friday Evening: Finally, Cameron’s persistence pays off and he gets a fantastic deal. Cameron returns to the UK to announce the date of the UK referendum.

The whole thing sounded suspiciously scripted. After all, the real negotiations were conducted by ‘Sherpas’ or civil servants who do the detailed negotiations. The term ‘Sherpa’ is somewhat self-regarding as real Sherpas risk their lives, carry enormous loads, and are often poorly rewarded. I doubt if we can say the same for senior civil servants, despite the privations of over-night negotiations. But the main point is that these negotiations were probably always going to succeed because of the prior-negotiations but the media story of ‘talks in jeopardy but rescued by tenacious Prime Minister’ plays well at home for a Prime Minister who must start a referendum campaign.

This issue of the pre-planned media opportunity masquerading as reality is by no means new. Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop (1954) features Lord Copper, a London newspaper magnate telling the novice war reporter William Boot how an ongoing African war is to be reported in his newspaper, The Beast:

“I never hamper my correspondents in any way. What the British public wants first, last and all the time is News. Remember that the Patriots are in the right and are going to win. The Beast stands with them four-square. But they must win quickly. The British public has no interest in a war which drags on indecisively. A few sharp victories, some conspicuous acts of personal bravery on the Patriot side and a colourful entry into the capital. That is The Beast policy for the war” (Waugh 1954: 42).

The 2006 Israeli war against Lebanon had a similar pre-determined media plan. The only problem was that the ground war and the media story did not match. Israel’s military suffered an unexpectedly large number of casualties and so the carefully-planned media story of a quick and easy victory fell apart.

In Cameron’s case, the heavy-lifting had been done by the senior civil servants, Angela Merkel was on-board, Cameron had already been on a diplomatic charm offensive in a range of European capitals, and so last week’s Brussels negotiations were largely theatre. There was dotting of ‘i’s and crossing of ‘t’s but was the outcome ever in any doubt?

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One Response to “David Cameron’s wonderfully fantastic superb victory (as scripted some weeks before the event)”

  1. Maya Arendt 22/02/2016 at 9:42 am #

    Some of the major issues in the UK agenda for Brussels were the EU decision making mechanism, the quota of immigrants allowed in the UK, the UK benefits to immigrants and the EU high taxation. As it was reported on the EU Parliament press briefing today the UK managed to negotiate a “special status” within the EU. If this will create a precedent for other EU member states nobody can tell, as it is not quite clear if this is a success for the EU as a whole and/or even for the UK…on the latter the article of Jeremy Corbyn on the Guardian has some brilliant points: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/20/jeremy-corbyn-comment-britain-eu-reform.

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