It is hard to translate the Yiddish word Chutzpah. Cheek doesn’t quite capture it. ‘What a cheek’ is not the same as ‘What Chutzpah’. Chutzpah involves a certain brazenness. ‘What Chutzpah’ is usually associated with a rubbing of the eyes or a shake of the head in disbelief. Even a kind of perverse admiration. The classical example of Chutzpah is the son who kills his mother and father and then turns to the judge and pleads: Mercy, I’m an orphan.
Cameron has taken Chutzpah to new heights.
A good place to start would be in the final weeks of the campaign when Cameron’s refrain was ‘Brits don’t Quit!’ Rub your eyes – this from the Brit who just months earlier had presented his ‘either we get this and this and that or, well yes, we quit’. Takes some nerve, does it not? Of course to have any credibility in his pre-referendum Brussels negotiations he would have to sell himself and his country as ready to quit.
You would think that in playing against the grain of ‘Brits don’t quit’ there would have to be something huge at stake. You may just remember the weeks that became months when the world and its sister were waiting for him to present his list of demands. You will certainly not have forgotten the disdainful disbelief from all and sundry when he finally presented his Potage of Lentils – that thin gruel of demands for which he was willing to gamble the future of the UK membership of the European Union and much more.
It was also an insult to one’s political intelligence. As a ploy to address internal party politics – the real reason behind the whole unfortunate manoeuvre – did he really believe that even if his demands were met in full (and they mostly were) this would keep the wolves at bay? Even more damning in my view, it was clear that Cameron never grasped the serious problems of the European construct which, if one were to use the ‘nuclear option’ of threatening to quit, could and perhaps should have been raised.
One issue in his list of demands did not appear trivial. So a word about the immigration item – no small measure of Chutzpah here too. Of course the Union had nothing whatsoever to do with the long-term rise in migrant numbers from non-EU countries. And not being part of Schengen, the UK did not have to face one of the trickiest aspects of the intra-Schengen dilemma. (Merkel, in a conversation with Renzi, is reputed to have praised the efficiency of the Italian railway system…). But as one surely recalls, it was the decision of the UK, an excellent decision on many fronts, not to avail itself of a transitional period in accepting migrants from the ‘new’ member states. You open your gates – and then you squeal – the Barbarians are here? Mercy, I’m an orphan …
It does not end here. Having presented his thin gruel, it was not surprising that he essentially obtained that which he requested, though how he was to sell this to the general electorate was anyone’s guess. At this point, having earlier argued that if the UK did not receive its request it would quit, he now had to change his tune and predict brimstone and fire, ashes and embers were it actually to quit. But if this were the fate awaiting Brexit, how to explain his earlier negotiating stance in Brussels?
But there was more to come. Having lost the campaign, it became in short order clear not only that there was no well thought out road map for Brexit but that in fact there had been no cost-benefit analysis or serious risk assessment – not least the threat to the integrity of the UK itself – prior to engaging in the referendum folly.
To cap it all was his ‘principled’ resignation, leaving others to deal with the mess he created. In this last respect he of course is not alone in that shameful corner.
There is Chutzpah and then there is David Cameron, former Prime Minister of Little England.