Officially, it has been the greatest diplomatic shindig in the world. Unofficially? A stewpot of bubbling tensions, rivalries and downright loathing. G8 they call it. G-hate, more like.
Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin sat next to each other in one of the little ‘bilaterals’ which have been held at the G8 summit in County Fermanagh. Boxing gloves, please!Did two chaps ever look less thrilled to see one another?A tired Mr Obama held one hand up to his face and grimaced. Mr Putin – bad Vlad in his Harry-Hill-style shirt collar – stared at the floor, lips pursed. When the Russian president spat out a few gruff words, his face barely moved. But that may be because he has had so much plastic surgery that he now resembles the Bride of Wildenstein. Vladimir’s face-lift was the talk of the summit margins.G8 veterans said they had not known personal relations so bad between the two old Cold War opponents.
The Syrian civil war, with Russia on one side of the bloody conflict and the north Americans and Britain on the other, was only one reason for the simmering unease between the main players.David Cameron, who had a gloriously sticky press conference with Mr Putin on Sunday, knows that the former KGB officer is leading a Moscow regime whose enemies – Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Berezovsky – most conveniently (or inconveniently), keep dropping dead on British soil. Very James Bond. Talking of secrets and subterfuge, the visiting statesmen awoke in Northern Ireland on Monday morning to be greeted by headlines in the ever-helpful Guardian newspaper saying that Britain commonly spies on, er, visiting statesmen. Oops!
If everyone didn’t already hate David Cameron for being given a ride in President Obama’s armoured car (the ‘Beast’) over the weekend, they certainly do now.There was no love lost between the two EU officials attending the summit, furtive-faced European Council president Herman Van ‘Rumpy-Pumpy’ Rompuy and the gassy European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.Herman and Jose ‘overlap’ (that’s a polite way of saying they largely duplicate responsibilities and therefore compete with one another). They looked as though they want to duck one another in Lough Erne.
As with the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, you rather wish both could lose but observers awarded the bout on points to Jose on the grounds that he at least has a sense of humour. When Rumpy-Pumpy leaves a meeting, its other occupants are rigid in their chairs, like victims of chemical warfare.David Cameron had set the shirtsleeve-order dress code. Great idea for hot countries but a bit of a nipple-lifter in draughty Ulster. The open-collar look was not flattering to chunky Prime Minister Stephen Harper from Canada. Nor, for that matter, did the dress-down look do much for Mr Cameron, who is going through one of his porkier phases.France’s Francois Hollande was there, glowering at summit host Cameron not only for being English (naturally) but also for being Angela Merkel’s new best friend in Europe.
The French recently took le hump when Dave and the glamorous Samantha (fetch that effortless fashion, Michelle Obama!) were invited to Frau Merkel’s country home. But hey, who would want the Hollandes to stay? Francois’s fiery missus Valeria Trierweiler is une faste bowleur, as they say in Paris. Perhaps the Merkels value their family china.As for the French economy, well, there was surely an unofficial policy of ‘don’t mention le slump’. Did anyone mentioning growth rates at the leaders’ cosy private supper on Monday night have to put a fiver in the swear box?There were also money worries, with Japanese newboy Shinzo Abe’s neo-Keynesian approach – spend, spend, spend – clashing with the more cautious approach of the Anglo-Saxons.
Great hairdo, by the way, Shinzo. Do you go to the same barber as Shakin’ Stevens?And if any of you are wondering who that tall chap was, the one with the glasses and the brown shoes, yes, he really was meant to be there. He wasn’t the hotel manager. His name was Enrico Letta, new PM of Italy. Most interesting thing about him: he likes the table football game Subbuteo.But it may not be necessary to memorise the name. If Chancellor Merkel continues to impose her flinty austerity regime on the Mediterranean economies, old Enrico could be gone before you can boil a pan of macaroni.All in all, a diplomatic triumph!