I call it the Lawyer’s Gambit because it’s a ploy used by big corporate lawyers to complicate cases, thus prolonging them needlessly and of course expensively. It consists in floating a spurious idea, just the right side of ridiculous (otherwise the judge might throw it out), knowing it will eventually be shown to be wrong or immaterial but knowing too that it will take up a great deal of the opposition’s time, energy and resources.
It works in politics too, provided you are – or are at least perceived to be – a sufficiently big and important player. Otherwise the others just might turn round and tell you to go play your silly games elsewhere. In fact, it works even better in politics. In court, once an idea has been thrown out, it stays out – you can’t so much as refer to it again; in politics, you can roll out the same rubbish time and time again.
This is what Cameron has tried with his ‘questionnaires’ to the other heads of government in the EU. He’s trying to get the EU to tie itself in knots over stuff that the Brits allegedly don’t like. You know, all that nonsense about the minimum wage needing to be a living wage, not putting people in prison without a fair trial, not making them work 48 hours a week, not being able to sack them for no reason… All that sort of stuff. Basically what he wants is to renegotiate all the important bits with a view to obtaining a sort of ‘Europe light’ à-la-Tory, so light in fact that one day it might even float away and never raise face its silly face again.
Unfortunately for Cameron – and fortunately for everyone else – the rest of Europe understands that despite all its imperfections, some of them serious, the EU we’ve got is the best one we can get for the foreseeable future, and that the social chapters, far from being spurious, are absolutely central to what civilisation is about.
By openly snubbing Cameron’s initiative, Merkel and Hollande have revealed a fundamental element in their thinking: they no longer consider England important enough to get away with time-wasting on such a scale. Effectively, Europe has just told Cameron and England to piss off.