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By Chris Rogers
Last night we had the first of three groundbreaking Prime Ministerial TV debates in the UK. Pages of rules and a muted audience didn’t detract from the fact that political porn like this is rare, a testament to the 9.9 million viewers. They tuned in with the same appetite as an audience ready for the X-Factor.
Crikey it was intense though, the three gentlemen all shaved and primped to within an inch of their lives stood astride the polished silver lecterns delivering ninety uninterrupted minutes of argument. The moderator of this debate was Alistair Stewart (ITV) and he had arguably the worst night. He suffered an episode of newsreader’s tourettes as he sporadically yelled “Mister Brown, Mister Clegg, Mister Cameron”, switching the debate with a shrill tone, reminiscent of a mother berating a small child for sticking their fat finger in a juicy pudding! I must confess to taking a forced break at around the sixty minute mark to find some Scotch…but the candidates had no such pleasure.
Mr Brown (Labour)
The Prime Minister proved the proverbial human light-bulb. No one ever knows if there is enough Argon in the atmosphere to sustain his egregious smile for longer than a second before burnout.
In my opinion he was a close third place but others have promoted him higher. Let down by attempted punch lines and by misreading the “stay positive” strategy of Clegg and Cameron at the beginning, he demonstrated a sound command of policy as you might expect. The one with thirteen years of record to defend, he fell into the trap of wobbling his head in denial – like a Churchill’s car insurance advert – instead of remaining pensive.
However, at the end he stole a hilarious march on the other two candidates, taking off into the crowd like a thunderbolt. He wolfed up great swathes of the audience into his hands even before his flat-footed opponents had a chance to register. I’ll remember that part of his performance above all.
Mr Cameron (Conservative)
Call Me Dave had the nicest tie, and lots of stories about people he’d met and places he’d been. Perhaps too many – you got the feeling that every time he needed a policy or stance on something he’d wander out into the provinces – like Livingstone searching for the source of the Nile – and ask a native who he happened to meet what the best way to go was.
Steady as she goes though it was the sort of performance that you come to expect from him, compelling in places and a little cheesy in others. Brown shouldn’t have agreed to this debate but Cameron felt like the one who had most to lose, so he was never going to win really – second place.
Mr Clegg (Liberal Democrat)
Who is this chap, hands in pockets – not like the other two. Trying his best not to join the argument while the other two argued, because, you know, he’s not argumentative like the other two. Remembering that Jackie (a questioner) came from Burnley was very impressive, neither of the other two managed that and he always asked to see the face of the questioner behind the blinding studio lights. Let me connect with you, sir! That’s better.
Mr Clegg had the advantage of surprise, a relative unknown quantity for many and he took his chance with alacrity. Brown and Cameron will have learned their lesson. He really is very different from the other two, isn’t he?
You would be forgiven for thinking that, following ratification of the new EU Treaty and the new Commission, all was sweetness and light in Brussels. And you would be right. But make no mistake. There is an elephant in the room of every Council meeting, and the elephant’s name is David.
It would be nice if the UK election was just like any other election in one of the 27 Member States. Whether the winner of a national election is a Socialist, Christian Democrat, or even a Liberal, Brussels can pretty much be assured that the winner will not rock the EU boat unduly. In most of the EU Member States, the EU is supported, more or less, within the political classes – the difference is in the detail.
As ever, the UK stands out as being the exception to the rule. On 6 May, the likely date for the UK General Election, there is a strong probability that for the first time since 1997 a Conservative government will come into being. If David Cameron, the Conservative leader, becomes UK Prime Minister it will be the first time in thirteen years that a large Member State elects a party which is overtly hostile to the principle of “ever closer union” within the EU.
History tells us that UK political parties often complain about the burgeoning power of Brussels over the UK, but then become less hostile once they enter power. Possibly this is because they realise pretty quickly that there is no short-term fix, and possibly because, once the media storm subsides, British business steps in and has some quiet words in the politicians’ ears.
Yet history also tells us that Cameron often acts as the puppet of the virulent eurosceptic wing in his party which is calling for the UK to broker a renewed relationship with the EU.
Furthermore, he has demonstrated that he will happily go against the political grain in Brussels to score cheap political points back home – witness his pulling out last year of the UK Conservatives from the European Parliament’s largest group, the EPP, which angered some of his own MEPs and demonstrated where his own priorities lie.
UK business in Brussels is already fretting about what a Cameron government may do or say when it comes to the EU, and diplomats are worried that a Cameron-led government will refuse to acknowledge Brussels’ compromise culture.
The UK election campaign will be dominated by the financial crisis, Iraq, and expenses, and will feature not a little mud slinging along the way. Happy times, then, for elephants everywhere.
The breaking news coming from the Parliament is that a deal has been brokered to make the so-called European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) the fourth largest group in the hemicycle.
David Cameron’s decision to pull the UK Tory MEPs out of the EPP was a controversial one and proved to be the catalyst for the formation of the new group. Doubts had been raised as to whether the new group could reach the allocated number of seats necessary, namely 25 MEPs from 7 different Member States. However the total comes in at 55 MEPs from 8 different countries, and, as expected, the bulk of the members are the 26 British Conservatives MEPs, 15 MEPs from the Polish Law and Justice Party and 9 MEPs from the Czech Civic Democratic Party.
How will this change the dynamics in the Parliament? Well, it remains likely that the ECR will side with the EPP on most major policy issues to form a powerful centre-right coalition. It will also mean that there is a more unified, anti-federalist voice in the Parliament.
Interesting to note that the announcement comes on the same day that the new Speaker of the UK House of Commons will be revealed. Much has been made of the rather dubious policies of some of their new group partners – are the Tories hoping that news of the ECR gets lost in press coverage about the new Speaker?