David Cameron and Nick Clegg thought they had mapped out the perfect escape route before the prime minister toddled off to Brussels last week.
I suspect the conversation went something like this. Cameron: ‘I’ll go armed with a few inoffensive demands to safeguard the city, which Merk and Jerk will be happy to go along with for a quiet life.
‘I can then return looking as if I have asserted Britain’s interests in Europe – which will keep my lot quiet - and your lot won’t have anything to moan about.’
Clegg: ‘Excellent Dave! And we can say I have thoroughly endorsed your negotiating position, which will mean the media have no cause to question the strength of the coalition.’
That was the idea. Unfortunately, Frau Merkel and Monsieur Sarkozy called Dave’s bluff and chaos then ensued.
Clegg, unable to think on his feet, gave bleary-eyed approval to what had taken place before having his ear-drums splintered by outraged bellowing from the Lords Ashdown and Oakeshott.
There then followed one of the most haphazard, amusing and calamitously ineffectual U-turns in recent British political history.
First Clegg confirmed that Cameron’s requests for safeguards for the British economy had been reasonable. But the following day – ears still ringing – he said his actions were ‘bad for Britain.’ Twenty-four hours later he made the greatest tactical mistake of what is likely to be a brief political career by refusing to take his place beside the PM in the Commons.
What he hoped would be viewed as a principled stand by furious members of his party was immediately regarded as a sulky, snivelling cop-out by everyone else.
It was a catastrophic, career-altering misjudgement on a par with Norman Lamont’s insistence that unemployment was a price well worth paying for reducing inflation.
The Tories (with the possible exception of Kenneth Clarke) have their tails up and the Lib Dems have retreated into a seething, embittered rump.
And we’re expected to believe this dysfunctional mob will govern Britain for the next three-and-a-half years?
I don’t think so.