The Shadow Europe Minister was in fine form during yesterday's Europe debate in the Commons, suggesting that Labour put media management first when the priority should have been to win the EU's economic portfolio for Britain:
"It would also be churlish not to express our gratitude to the Foreign Secretary for his decision to champion Tony Blair in his campaign for the presidency. It was strongly our view that the former Prime Minister was exactly the wrong man for the job. Not only would his appointment dramatise the treaty's lack of democratic legitimacy, but to make so ambitious and limelight-hungry a politician the office's formative first occupant-he is even more so than the current Minister for Europe-would have shaped the post as an unconstructive centralising institution.
In the EU, the front-runner seldom gets the job. By doing everything that he could to make Tony Blair the front runner, the Foreign Secretary did a great deal to undermine his case. Characterising him as the man who could stop the traffic in Washington and Moscow helpfully crystallised everything that many countries did not want the President to be and implicitly put down the other candidates. The Prime Minister's people skills are obviously rubbing off on the Foreign Secretary.
We congratulate Baroness Ashton on her appointment. It is interesting that she was the Government's third or even fourth choice for the job-I will return to that in a minute-but we appreciate the appointment of someone able to work across the political divide. Some have criticised her for a lack of experience in foreign policy, but we know that she possesses a keen intelligence, and we are prepared to work with her in the British national interest.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) warned the Government before the summit, however, they should have sought for Britain not the position of President of the Council or High Representative, but a major economic portfolio in the European Commission. Recent events have borne out the wisdom of that warning, as the noble Lord Mandelson belatedly grasped. The whole saga of the appointments to the European Commission and other positions demonstrates this Government's lack of influence in the EU, lack of strategy and disunity.
The Government received no support for Tony Blair's candidacy from their socialist allies. They were talked into seeking the High Representative position. It is reported that the Prime Minister agreed not because he thought that Britain's interests would thus be best served but because he thought that it might secure better headlines. According to one key figure, there were two groups in the Government: those who made the real-world argument that the UK's interests would be best served by securing a strong economic portfolio to protect the City, and the media managers. It is, sadly, no surprise that this Prime Minister preferred to listen to the media managers. Once again, his preference for short-term personal political calculation has trumped the national interest.
Many will also find it extraordinary that the Prime Minister of this country was reduced to accepting his third choice of High Representative before he could find someone acceptable to the Party of European Socialists. They will find it even more extraordinary that the First Secretary of State, it is said, conducted his own campaign for the job and that even with his skills he was unsuccessful. As No. 10 was trying to push one set of candidates for the job, it appears that the First Secretary was trying to press another, namely himself."
Mr Francois' performance gets top marks from Quentin Letts in The Daily Mail: "If the Tories somehow manage to win the election, let's hope he is made Europe Minister and is allowed to do it for a decent spell."