Brown's former special adviser spoke on "muscular intergovernmentalism"—and its limitsby Stewart Wood / November 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
On 3rd November, Stewart Wood gave a talk at Hertford College, Oxford on Gordon Brown, for whom he used to work. You can read the full text of that talk below and watch it here. The lecture was part of a series on prime ministers and Europe since Thatcher. We will be posting more from the series in due course.
On 1st April 2010, five days before Gordon Brown called the 2010 election, he invited Angela Merkel for a private lunch at Chequers. It was ostensibly to discuss the next steps in Europe’s effort to recover from the Crash, the state of Europe’s banks & the Greek financial crisis. But it was actually a lunch to say goodbye. Everyone assumed we were about to lose power, and Gordon was about to leave No 10. It was never spoken of, but it didn’t need to be.
That day, Merkel had snubbed David Cameron, who would become prime minister six weeks later, by refusing to meet him during her visit to Britain. She was furious with Cameron for taking the Conservative Party out of the centre-right European Peoples Party grouping in the European parliament, in favour of a new group that would collect a ragbag of right-wing populist parties—and some more sinister right-wing authoritarian parties on the fringes of mainstream politics.
At lunch she told Gordon how angry with Cameron she was. How it would undermine British influence in Europe by removing the governing party from the main party grouping. Gordon nodded and said: “I’m afraid Angela that Cameron doesn’t understand how Europe works.”
I was at the lunch as Gordon’s special adviser covering European affairs. I’d worked with him in that role for a decade—first at the Treasury, then after 2007 in 10 Downing Street. When Gordon said those words, I remember asking ourselves if we passed that test, as we faced the prospect of the famous black door of No 10 opening to let us out for the last time. Did we understand how Europe worked? Did we understand Britain’s place in it?
I wasn’t sure that we did. And looking back a decade later, I’m still not sure. Maybe it’s because, as Madeleine Albright once said, “to understand Europe you have to be a genius, or French.” But…