The Week in Politics: Trivial bickerings in the shadow of D-Day

D-Day re-enactment activists on Omaha Beach
D-Day re-enactment activists on Omaha Beach
Alex Stevenson By

D-Day reminds us how trivial our everyday political battles really are.

For whereas 70 years ago the British prime minister waited in London for reports of an invasion of Europe against the greatest evil of the 20th century, today the latest resident of No 10's big challenge is to dissuade Europe's leaders from picking a hardline federalist like Jean-Claude Juncker to lead the European Commission.

The stakes are nowhere near comparable. And yet the events of this week and that of 70 years ago are linked. David Cameron's dilemma about how politically united Europe is follows from the success of the D-Day landings and Adolf Hitler's ultimate defeat. It was Winston Churchill himself who called for a "United States of Europe", as French socialist Michel Rocard argued brilliantly this week in Le Monde. Getting anywhere near that has taken decades. Now we get to bicker about exactly how far we take the project. That might not have been an option had D-Day failed.

So while our politicians remember with gratitude the efforts of those in the past who saved Europe from the Nazis, the same leading figures are very much focused on the continent's future. With a nagging report from EU officials telling Britain what to do, and Tony Blair hanging around the sidelines putting in his own two cents, there was no sign the focus on Europe was fading after the  elections of a fortnight ago.


This week the struggle over Juncker was the backdrop for a busy few days of diplomatising for Cameron. The G7 was about punishing Vladimir Putin by excluding him from an important meeting. It was only slightly undermined by the series of one-on-one meetings Putin had with European leaders on the fringes of the D-Day anniversary.

In the middle of all this came a bilateral with Barack Obama. This, at least, was a success; Cameron made arguably his most useful contribution to the 'no' campaign on Scottish independence by talking Obama into making clear his opposition to a Scottish breakaway.

Another big win for the PM came in Newark, where the momentum of the Ukip 'earthquake' was decisively stopped. That, at least, is what the Tories want you to think. There was still a 15% swing towards Team Farage, and 85% of Ukip voters a fortnight ago showed up again to back their party in the by-election. If the Conservatives use Newark as an excuse to stop worrying about Ukip, they're making a big mistake.

And then there was the Queen's Speech. According to the coalition's schedule, much of its final 12 months are supposed to be spent in bitter infighting. So, planning for the chaos of electioneering to come, the government came up with a modest legislative agenda. Its recall legislation was mocked for being inadequate and its infrastructure bill guaranteed some controversy, but overall the government did well by restricting its ambitions.

The only infighting on show this week had nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats, who looked like they had bludegeoned themselves into a stupefied silence after the Oakeshott detonation last week. Instead it two senior Conservative Cabinet ministers who were at war. Michael Gove's offensive against Theresa May over extremism in Muslim schools did not go well. There will be all hell to pay when the Commons returns to normal on Monday.

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