Perhaps the smartest observation over the weekend came from the Times’ David Aaronovitch, who tweeted: “I think this another of those increasingly common mega-events no-one can usefully call”. The truth is precisely that: no-one really knows with certainty whether the EU-26 will pull off the convergence deal. They will need to move their backsides for this to work, as Tony Blair points out in this interview. But if they do, Cameron will look a fool, beholden to his swivel-eyed backbenchers. If they don’t, he will look a far-sighted sage. We simply don’t know. Yet.
Ed Miliband, of course, is left in the unenviable position of not knowing, either. So, rather than risk getting it wrong, he is forced to fudge his answer. Inelegant, but perhaps necessary, given that he could not come down on the wrong side of an argument this important.
So where does this leave the coalition? Well, look at it this way: the Lib Dems used to standfor the three E’s: education, environment and Europe. Oh, and PR. Which have all been sold down the river respectively by (i) tuition fees, (ii) the Tories’ “put the husky to sleep” U-turns, recently highlighted by Mary Creagh MP, (iii) last week’s Euro-summit and (iv) the AV referendum, which they lost.
All the things that the Lib Dems once stood for, in short, have now been washed away in a political downpour which has left Clegg high and dry. On this summit, Clegg has done the only thing he could do: go along with Cameron’s position, then act cross about it afterwards, as he did on the BBC on Sunday.
If, then, there is any clear lesson to be learned from last week, it must surely be this: thatthe coalition cannot continue after 2015. Why? Because the remaining, long-suffering Lib Dem voters, such as they are, will surely not now wear the Tories as partners in a general election. Even if Clegg does not split his party, which seems at least a possibility, they will likely survive only as a rump which distinguishes itself from the Tories in some way. But beyond that, it makes little sense to try and predict when and where the coalition will finally collapse.
The frustrating thing for Clegg is that he is actually right, in the sense that Britain is now “marginalised” in Europe. In not just the continental but the international press in general, almost all papers led, predictably, with gleeful “Britain isolated” headlines, and that is all that most people abroad can see. Incidentally, the worrying thing is that few of these observersseemed to be focusing on the rather more important issue of whether or not the summit achieved its aim of saving the euro, which the FT, among others, rather seemed to think that it did not. But that is another story.
On the home front, even were he not before, Cleggis surely a lame duck now. We have seen how much sway the Lib Dems really have over the things they care about: precious little. He can no longer hide that from his voters, and politics can be a cruel business. He has a non-job holding things together as best he can for the next two-and-a-half years – though with a ministerial car, if he succeeds – and then, in all probability, either some international role, or oblivion.
His goose is not yet cooked, but the oven light has gone off and the timer’s on.
This post first published at Labour Uncut