ACCORDING to the ultra-reliable 'Financial Times', David Cameron intended to deliver bad news yesterday in the speech that he cancelled because of the Algerian hostage crisis.
With all the bad news at present on offer, he could have taken his pick. No doubt this week's instalment would have been about the British economy, but when the prime minister looks about him he can see an abundance of gloomy prospects at home and abroad.
And among the gloomy prospects he can include his own.
One opinion poll puts his Conservative Party 10 points behind Labour. This is less an indication of Labour recovery than an interim but ominous verdict on the performance of his Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.
The coalition has failed so far to pull Britain out of the economic mire. It has two years to go until the general election. Time enough to do the trick – if the circumstances are right.
But the circumstances are far from right. Mr Cameron is struggling to extricate himself from the thickest and thorniest bramble bush in British politics, the European question.
Almost from the time that Britain entered the then European Economic Community in 1973, this question has plagued the country's leaders.
As early as 1974, Harold Wilson thought he could break free of it with a referendum on whether Britain should stay in or get out. The idea did not please continental leaders. Helmut Schmidt, one of the most formidable of German chancellors, told the British prime minister his opinion "in words of one syllable".
Wilson spent the next two hours alone in his study, in reflection. Maybe Mr Cameron should do the same. He might conclude that he, too, could get a favourable result. Wilson won his referendum in 1975 with a whopping majority.
But Mr Cameron's problems are more difficult, and more complicated. He proposes to enter negotiations to "repatriate" powers from the EU to London. The items on his agenda range from the Working Hours Directive to the daft system whereby the European Parliament shuttles between Brussels and Strasbourg.
By common consent, his chances are minimal, but failure to achieve a satisfactory deal would increase the likelihood that an angry electorate would vote for withdrawal in a referendum.
Behind him, meanwhile, loom Eurosceptic backbenchers and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). And at the 2015 election, another issue will come into the mix. UKIP will exploit the widespread prejudice against immigration.
Mr Cameron is too decent and intelligent to share such a prejudice or to ignore the likely consequences of British withdrawal from the EU.
In the first place, it would diminish British influence worldwide. It could have disastrous effects on the British economy. Some argue, unconvincingly, that Britain would do better outside than in. But the likeliest consequence would be a serious fall in production and employment.
Ireland relies heavily on trade with Britain. We also remain, to a great extent, tied into the British banking system.
It has always been held, and rightly, that closer British integration with Europe is beneficial for Ireland. For us, disruption instead of integration would be a nightmare.
But the dangers are wider still. The EU has gone to great lengths (though probably insufficient lengths) to keep Greece in the Union. A Greek exit would be harmful. But it would be a trifle compared with a British exit.
Could the EU itself survive it? Yes, almost certainly – if it can come to terms with all its other difficulties. And right now, no solution is in sight for any of them.
Can Ireland do anything about it? Almost nothing. We certainly won't witness Enda Kenny lecturing David Cameron in words of one syllable. Indeed, it isn't easy to imagine Angela Merkel engaging in such an exercise.
Our best hope may be Mr Cameron himself. Assuming that he goes ahead with the referendum – something he can hardly avoid – he must devote himself heart and soul to keeping Britain in the EU.
That means taking a risk like the one Harold Wilson took in 1975, a calamitous split in his party. But risks are a permanent part of politics. Just like bad news.