"I think you should say what you think and be frank and clear," said David Cameron this morning, having left a trail of diplomatic disaster from Constantinople to the Kyber Pass.
Cameron has managed to upset both Israel and Pakistan with comments made while being hosted by the geographical rivals of both countries. Whether this marks a new phase of candour in British diplomacy remains to be seen. From the sound of heads banging desks emanating from the Foreign Office one suspects not.
I noticed last week in Washington that the Prime Minister has a problem not just with megaphone diplomacy but with the calibration and consistency of his message. A small example were his words at Arlington Cemetery, which were briefed to the traveling press beforehand, but with the caveat that we should actually wait until they were spoken because Cameron sometimes prefers to go off-script. The confusion over British withdrawal from Afghanistan is another example, but that involved other people putting their foot in their mouth.
Cameron's trademark is, after all, speaking off the cuff. It's how he won the Tory conference round with that(much rehearsed) no notes performance in 2005.
He speaks in a fluid, relaxed style which comes from being confident with your material and your own ability to deliver it. But while that suited him well in opposition he still appears not to have learned the lesson of having to be absolutely, repetitively, boringly consistent in the office of Prime Minister.
There is a large cohort of literal critics in the press lobby (some literary critics too, no doubt) who can pick up on a single word change and mark it down as a major change in policy. Call them pedants but they interpret any deviation as anything from finetuning policy to a major u-turn. Diplomats are trained in the sensitive interpretation of political statements too which is why so many of them have burst eardrums this week after listening to Cam in Turkey and India.
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