THE BLOG

Time to Fess Up, Dave

28/02/2014 14:47 GMT | Updated 30/04/2014 10:59 BST

In the aftermath of Angela Merkel's visit, David Cameron's European strategy stands revealed as, at best, an ill thought-out sham, at worst, a cynical confidence trick.

Dave was all over Merkel like an Italian gigolo. She smiled indulgently, and proceeded to prove the truth of one of Talleyrand's more cynical observations; "In any relationship, there is the one who kisses, and the one who presents the cheek".

She presented her cheek prettily enough. And, er, that's it.

She gave Dave nothing to suggest she would join him on his long march towards a reformed EU, with proper curbs on increasingly impossible to sustain (as this morning's news proves) free movement within the EU, apart from some wishy washy words about benefits tourism. Nor did she have anything remotely encouraging to say about repatriating powers, and ending arbitrary Brussels bureaucracy.

Why was she not more forthcoming? Plenty of reasons can be suggested. But perhaps, mainly because, like many of us, she isn't convinced Dave really means business.

She probably thinks, as I do, that Dave is playing a game. So why not just lie back, as she did, and enjoy Thursday's stately pas de deux, with lashings of what we used to call in my Foreign Office days, diplodrone - lots of words, signifying nothing.

So today it's surely time for Dave to fess up.

His strategy for renegotiation of our membership arrangements is in tatters. A dead parrot, or in truth, a parrot that only isn't dead, because it was never really alive.

Beyond a few windy, generalised speeches, Dave has never revealed what he really wants the Europeans to give us.

Perhaps he doesn't even know himself. But now he need to level with us. He needs to tell us in a round and unvarnished way what Brussels has to do to persuade him to recommend to the British people in a 2017 referendum that we should stay in the European Union.

It's "le crunch". Dave must advise his increasingly restive backbenchers whether he's got a clear vision for life inside or outside Europe. Which is it to be? Clarity and leadership please Dave.

Has this whole thing really just been a cynical PR ploy? Nothing more than a delaying tactic, to get him through a general election as a supposed Euro sceptic, so that he can then, all being well, pop up afterwards, and ask for a few superficial, meaningless concessions, before he finally recommends a yes vote in the referendum.

Dave's whole strategy was based on taking up time preparing a negotiating position. But in order to have a negotiation, you have to have a negotiating partner. And Merkel made it clear beyond peradventure yesterday that there isn't anyone within the EU, herself included, willing to consider fundamental reform of a failing institution.

So Dave now has no option but to tell us what he really thinks, and what he really wants. This may be a problem. Perhaps he's like the celebrated mis-description of Ronald Reagan; "You can walk through his deepest thoughts without getting your feet wet". It's time to find out.

Returning briefly to the real Angela Merkel. Despite all the troubles the Greeks and other Southern Europeans have caused her, she still won't accept that the Euro is a busted flush. Despite the continuing and seemingly unstoppable fall in the European Union's share of world trade from 29% to 19%, she still thinks it's an entity within which German commerce and industry can flourish long term. And residual German guilt denies her the opportunity to denounce an insensitive, and anti-democratic Brussels bureaucracy for what it really is.

So the question for Dave is, if she doesn't get it, who amongst the others does?

And the answers obvious. Dave's much vaunted EU renegotiating strategy stands revealed as nothing more than him sitting in an empty room, waiting for someone to turn up.

And nobody will.