Unwise speculation

Chris Patten

Former European Commissioner and Conservative party chairman Chris Patten was asked by the Financial Times this morning whether he was interested in the post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs, to be established by the Lisbon treaty, should that treaty come into force.

“I’m not campaigning for the job,” he said. “But if I was approached, which I think is unlikely, I would certainly be very positive about it.”

Of course, this willingness to contemplate favourably the European Union after Lisbon comes into force runs against the Tory party’s dire predictions, so they had to move swiftly to close down the story. Shadow foreign secretary William Hague rushed out a statement declaring that:

“Speculation about who should fill a post whose shape we do not yet know is certainly unwise and, given the nature of European politics, likely to be unhelpful to any possible candidate.”

The second half of that statement may well be true, but what of the first half? Let us look back to another time when there was speculation about the future occupant of an as-yet undefined post, the president of the European Council. We find an excellent example of the kind in Hansard for the House of Commons on 21 January 2008:

“To see how the post of a permanent President of the European Council could evolve is not difficult even for the humblest student of politics, and it is, of course, rumoured that one Tony Blair may be interested in the job. If that prospect makes us uncomfortable on the Conservative Benches, just imagine how it will be viewed in Downing street! I must warn Ministers that having tangled with Tony Blair across the Dispatch Box on hundreds of occasions, I know his mind almost as well as they do. I can tell them that when he goes off to a major political conference of a centre-right party and refers to himself as a socialist, he is on manoeuvres, and is busily building coalitions as only he can.

“We can all picture the scene at a European Council sometime next year. Picture the face of our poor Prime Minister as the name “Blair” is nominated by one President and Prime Minister after another: the look of utter gloom on his face at the nauseating, glutinous praise oozing from every Head of Government, the rapid revelation of a majority view, agreed behind closed doors when he, as usual, was excluded. Never would he more regret no longer being in possession of a veto: the famous dropped jaw almost hitting the table, as he realises there is no option but to join in. Then the awful moment when the motorcade of the President of Europe sweeps into Downing street. The gritted teeth and bitten nails: the Prime Minister emerges from his door with a smile of intolerable anguish; the choking sensation as the words, “Mr President”, are forced from his mouth. And then, once in the Cabinet room, the melodrama of, “When will you hand over to me?” all over again.”

And who was that unwise speculator? Why, William Hague of course.

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