When presenting failure as success works.
Politics is a strange, constantly changing, always the same business. There are times when you can present failure as success and get away with it, and there are times when you can claim failure when you've succeeded and get pilloried for it. You can travel across Europe, get the signature of a world leader that condemns an entire country and be feted for ensuring peace (at least for a few months), or you can go to Brussels, be completely humiliated, shown up as having precisely no influence over anything, and yet be cheered to the rafters by your backbenchers and most of the media as though you didn't just stop someone unsuitable from becoming EU commission president, but put a lance through their bowel in the bargain.
This is the really odd thing about David Cameron: for all the insults liberally thrown at Ed Miliband, about being weak, a loser, a nerd, weird, by rights the two former jibes should have stuck to our glorious prime minister. Ever since he went to the Eurozone summit back at the tail end of 2011 and wielded the veto, achieving precisely zilch other than further isolating Britain in Europe, his policy on the EU has been one flub after another, yielding to his backbenchers in a way that would have seen his predecessors condemned as vacillating pygmies.
Pressured by growing discontent at his leadership, he promised an in/out referendum in 2017 following a successful re-negotiation of our role in the EU, believing giving a set in stone pledge would buy off his more intransigent critics. Instead, as was wholly predictable, they've kept on pushing, trying repeatedly to hold the next government to account by forcing the referendum on to the statute book despite it being utterly futile. Nor did it have the other desired effect of showing UKIP voters the only way to be sure of a vote is to support the Tories; again, if anything, it's just pushed those already disposed to wanting out to plump for Farage. Cameron insists he wants us to stay in, after all. Why would they be bought off with half measures? To complete the trifecta, it hasn't trapped Labour either, Miliband refusing to promise a referendum when there are far more pressing issues to be dealt with, and when staying in is so obviously in our interests.
If another aim was to make it clear to the rest of Europe we could leave, causing concern leading to continental leaders becoming more amenable to to Tory demands, that's gone for the birds as well. And no wonder, as the only way most Eurosceptics know how to communicate is through abuse. Whatever Jean-Claude Juncker is, he's not the most dangerous man in Europe, that old formulation given life yet again by the Sun. When the Germans, otherwise sympathetic to Cameron and desperate to ensure we don't leave do a volte face and support Juncker, it's not just down to Angela Merkel coming under domestic pressure, it's also in part due to our counter-productive attempts at lobbying, or more accurately described, that odd mixture of threatening and pleading.
We are then according even to Cameron one step closer to the exit. Juncker's presidency of the Commission will make the re-negotiation more difficult. Understandably, the likes of Bill Cash and Edward Leigh lap it up, unconcerned at how the exit happens so long as it does. Nor does the obvious weakness of a British prime minister concern those it would normally excise deeply. It also doesn't bother them how the increasing likelihood of leaving the EU could affect the Scottish independence referendum, when the SNP have been campaigning on the basis of being a welcoming country, wanting to be an active member of the EU, calling for more immigration rather than less. The dismay of the vast majority of the business community is something else that can be shrugged off, especially when Labour is seen with such suspicion.
On almost any other issue Cameron would have been filleted had he talked so big and ended up achieving so little. When the level of debate about the EU is so wonderfully summed up by the classlessness of UKIP MEPs turning their backs in parliament though, the kind of political gesture that would make fifth-formers look like idiots, it just doesn't get through the dissonance. A man who supposedly wants us to remain in a reformed Europe gave into the demands of his want out MPs at the first sign of trouble, and on every occasion since has multiplied the magnitude of his original error. If the Tories win in 2015, a huge if, he faces the nightmarish prospect of having to bargain and cajole those he and other members of the cabinet have insulted, knowing it could end up in a choice between putting either the interests of the country or himself as Tory party leader first. Going by his past decisions, it's not difficult to ascertain which option he'd go for.