The story of David Cameron’s much-delayed speech on Europe mixes farce with tragedy. The fact that the Algerian terrorist attack has once again delayed the prime minister’s landmark address, must make Cameron wonder whether the whole enterprise is cursed.
The great Europe speech was initially meant to be given before Xmas. It was put off, amidst reports that there were still deep arguments about its contents. Cameron himself attempted to defuse the controversy with a risque joke – likening the extended wait for his speech to Tantric sex. It would be all the better for the long build-up, he assured his listeners.
Even when it was decided that late January was the moment, there was last minute confusion about the date and venue for the great speech. Monday January 21st was pencilled in, until somebody pointed out that this was the day of Obama’s inaugural address. How about January 22nd? No such luck: this would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty between France and Germany. How could Cameron be so tactless? OK then – January 23rd. No again, that’s the day that the World Economic Forum kicks off in Davos.
The venue of the speech was also a problem. The fact that it would take place in the Netherlands was also only confirmed very late in the day – amidst suggestions that the Dutch were a little nervous about any implication that they are joining the British awkward squad. Eventually the Cameron team settled on a day and a location: January 18th in Amsterdam. A Friday is not ideal, in terms of the news cycle – but it would have to do.
Given all this, Cameron was understandably reluctant to delay the speech once again, when the Algerian crisis broke. But, in the end, he probably made the right call – given what we know about what’s going on in Algeria. However, yet another delay only added to the sense of confusion and mishap surrounding the Cameron speech.
The prime minister might now be wishing that the whole ill-starred project could be quietly called off – particularly since some of the speech’s contents have already been trailed. More than ever, the prime minister is in a no-win situation. Expectations have been ramped up beyond Tantric levels. Reality can only be an anti-climax.
Unfortunately, it is probably too late for Cameron to abandon the whole speech. It will have to be given. Now, they just have to find a date …