Our prime minister has been doing his top table bit at this week’s G8 and a speech on the EU a few days ago, but is this a productive use of our money and his time?
In a speech given in deepest Essex, David Cameron announced that a key part of his international ambitions for the UK “is our place at the top table. At the UN. The Commonwealth. NATO. The G8. The G20 and, yes – the EU.” This inspired a wonderful cartoon by Christian Adams in the Telegraph depicting Cameron as the Sunday joint waiting to be carved up by Merkel, Hollande and Barroso, accompanied by the headline: “We have to be at the Top Table”.
Quite apart from rushing out to buy the original cartoon from Adams, it got me thinking about the costs and benefits of Cameron’s expansiveness.
The benefits are always, obviously, stated as Britain gains from being up there with the world’s biggest political beasts as it means we can influence events to our economic advantage. Anything else? No, this rather airy fairy argument is about it.
Some of the costs are, sadly, on display as we play host to the current G8 summit. It is taking place in a hotel that no one wants to buy from the receiver, next to a town whose closed high street businesses have been repainted with fake shopfronts, and the agenda primarily consists of whether our little island gets involved in stepping up the bloody and vile shooting match in Syria, Lebanon, et al. Has all the ingredients of a classic Shakespearean tragedy, doesn’t it?
Too often being at the top table seems to require us to supply an endless stream of expensive manpower and weaponry to any and every civil war hotspot. We are propelled into this position because history suggests that our economic superiors in the form of Germany, Japan and China cannot be trusted to do the right thing. So you and I are expected to carry on paying out huge sums of money to have our children shot at wherever it pleases the top table to send them. Do you get the feeling that Obama and Putin are laughing at the financial and human bind we are in? I do.
What about our financial pulling power? Our politicians continue to convince themselves we have the economic clout to get GB taken seriously at the top table. The facts are not with Cameron & Co. Our GDP per capita puts us at number 8 in the world and even that is misleading as, although China and Russia are lower down the rankings, no one would suggest that the countries of the world are going to listen to us ahead of them.
At least with our situation in Europe there is a growing understanding amongst Britons that the cost of being at that particular top table is, as the Adam’s cartoon so perfectly puts it, humiliatingly high. If we can get Downing Street and Westminster to understand that then our dosh may soon no longer be wasted on the top tables’ tosh.
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