Forty-four Candles

If a bright light is seen radiating from Downing St this evening there is no need to find a policeman to warn that an alien abduction of the Prime Minister may be underway.

It is more likely that the shimmering glow will come from the 44 candles on David Cameron’s birthday cake.

He does not seem glum he is in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. If the Tories had gained unilateral control of the UK Government he would be under greater pressure from his party’s more zealous spirits on the right to slash taxes and make more anti-EU comments.

But like a new husband who suddenly has an excuse to pull out of any social engagement he doesn’t want to attend, he can disappoint ideologues with a shrug, a smile and the comment: “You know I’d love to do that, but my partner won’t stand for that kind of thing.”

Mr Cameron is no Europhile, as demonstrated by his decision to forge an anti-federalist group in the European Union, but nor does he seem enthralled by the prospect of new adventures with the United States.

During the Cold War, Conservatives relished the UK’s supposed role as Greece to America’s Rome. The chemistry between Thatcher and Reagan was more explosive than anything in a nuclear warhead.

But in a recent interview with Simon Schama, the PM admitted that the US Right and Tories were no longer ideal dancing partners.

He said: “How shall I put this? We seem to have drifted apart ... there is an element of American conservatism that is headed in a very culture war direction, which is just different.”

Despite the energetic efforts of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, there is no UK counterpart to the US Tea Party movement. Crowds do not fill Hyde Park calling for Cameron & co to slash deeper and faster at the deficit, and his proposals to shrink the state’s role in the delivery of public services are not talked about with excitement at most barbecues.

But as his foreign policy in-tray stacks up, this pragmatist Prime Minister may well lose patience with long-running crises in Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Sudan, Iran and the ice-caps and decide it’s time to get a grip.

And if he decides that the US has failed to provide the leadership the global community demands, maybe he will welcome his Lib Dem Deputy PM into the Downing Street den and say, “Nick, do you think this EU-thing could ever actually work?”

A Conservative leader may seem an unlikely candidate to seize the potential of the EU to be a force for stability and progress in a fractious world, but this is a young(ish) dad for whom grand ambitions are not daydreams but a to-do list.

A Saturday column