Sunday 22 September 2019

Cameron should remember the leaders of the EU are not like the great Schmidt

'If he (Cameron) is wise, he will say no more about debunking or hard-headedness but will concentrate on what can reasonably be achieved'
'If he (Cameron) is wise, he will say no more about debunking or hard-headedness but will concentrate on what can reasonably be achieved'

James Downey

Can you remember who uttered the following words this week?

"That is how we have always been as a nation. We are rigorously practical. We are obstinate, down to earth. We are natural debunkers."

Yes, that was David Cameron, summing up the people he rules, praising them for their practicality and the hardness of their heads and flattering them.

A political dodge as old as the hills. The British people must be delighted to know that their prime minister thinks so highly of them.

But is he right?

A century ago, George Bernard Shaw didn't think so.

In his play, 'John Bull's Other Island' he contrasted the English with the Irish. But he portrayed the English as the dreamers, the Irish as the hard-headed and hard-fisted.

And right now, one of Britain's special babies is in need of debunking - and unlikely to get any, whatever the prime minister (right) may say for the moment.

The British economy is in an enviable position.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has enough money for almost, but not quite, everything.

He can make the lives of millionaires even more comfortable. He proposes measures which will hurt the working poor, but he is devising plans which will compensate to some extent for the cuts imposed on them.

But he and the prime minister could do better.

They might even eliminate the budget deficit if they engaged in a piece of debunking which Cameron did not mention.

Britain has nuclear weapons. They are probably obsolete. They are certainly useless.

If they were dumped, the government could save millions.

If the prime minister got rid of them, don't you think that would suit admirably his claim to be "rigorously radical"?

But rigorous radicalism, in the Conservatives' view, suggests something quite different.

They see thermonuclear forces as their ticket to the top table.

I disagree, and I call in aid the brilliant life and work of Helmut Schmidt, the former German chancellor who died this week at the splendid age of 96.

Along with Konrad Adenauer, Schmidt deserves to be called the creator of post-war Germany.

His fellow countrymen would add Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl to the list, but I cannot see their achievements as comparable with those of Schmidt.

He fought in World War II, and afterwards lived in a divided, impoverished Germany.

As he viewed the devastation, it seemed to him that his country might be in danger of something worse - the degradation of German politics, which had opened the door for Adolf Hitler and his thugs, and ultimately for the most terrible of wars.

To prevent that, he concluded that his country must have "citizenship with Europe and partnership with the United States". The first was a credit to the Germans, who in effect tied themselves into a Europe-wide regime which gave them less autonomy than they might have commanded.

The second depended on the conviction that politics from then on needed to be global, not national. This conviction, and his ability to make friends with powerful people ranging from Denis Healey to Henry Kissinger, helped to raise Germany's international stature and in effect restore Germany to the status of a great power (though the Germans themselves do not use the phrase).

Schmidt took on some of the most difficult ministries, like Defence and Finance.

In the second role, he had to counter the damage wrought by the financial crash of the 1970s, which threatened to undo the progress made by Germany since the War.

Some of his decisions puzzled his more conservative supporters. He refused to impose sanctions on the Russians when they invaded Afghanistan. Instead, he tried to bring about a rapprochement with the Kremlin, to little effect.

The Afghan war was an unmitigated disaster for Russia.

As Chancellor, he favoured Keynesian economics.

Perhaps, if he had still been in office in 2008 he might have handled the economic meltdown better than those who are still struggling with it. He resisted the demands of one of the most dangerous terrorist gangs in the world when they wanted him to authorise the release of prisoners.

To have set them free could have resulted in a spate of terrible crimes. In the event, only one person was killed.

David Cameron can count himself lucky that his present task involves much less danger - except, of course, the danger to his reputation if he fails to come out of the negotiations with a workable settlement.

If he is wise, he will say no more about debunking or hard-headedness but will concentrate on what can reasonably be achieved.

But he needs help, and the present rulers of European nations and of the European Union as a whole are, frankly, not the most inspiring group one can imagine.

How many more favourable chances, and how much more common sense, we could hope for if another Helmut Schmidt were at the head of European affairs.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss