Conservatives struggle to find a coherent foreign policy?

British Conservative governments generally don’t really do ‘Foreign Policy’. With the exception of the Suez Crisis and the Falklands war, they have tended to err on the side of caution. This government in particular seems to have been almost rigidly focused on domestic issues of rolling back the debt, so that when a genuine international crisis like the Arab Spring uprising comes along they seem have been even less unprepared than their western neighbours.

James Forsyth worries that it’s leading to a bad appearance:

The political danger of all this is that it adds to Labour’s narrative about government incompetence. Alexander rattled off the list of government bungles on Libya: Hague’s suggestion that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela, the delayed evacuation and the government getting ahead of itself in talking up a no-fly zone. Put these together with the SAS incident and you don’t get a positive impression…

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  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    The Tory opposition supported Tony’s war in Iraq. They are now, the only major Western governemnt who still believe Tony was correct to go to war.

    Presuambly that (dangerous) thinking, at least in part, informs their Foreign Policy.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    , typo

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Still bold ?

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    The Tory opposition supported Tony’s war in Iraq. They are now, the only major Western governemnt who still believe Tony was correct to go to war.

    Presuambly that (dangerous) thinking, at least in part, informs their Foreign Policy.

    (Mick can you delete the above posts)

  • There cannot actually be a coherent policy on Libya.
    Everybody wants democracy but seemingly not at a price which will interfere with British interests….oil prices, or a democracy that is Islamist in tone.
    Deep down the British want stable government in Libya and rhetoric aside they would prefer Gaddafis stability than democratic instability. Its the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of all British…..and broader Western imperialist and post imperialist policy.

    But Id suggest that the Tories are actually the “natural” (if incompetent and hypocritical” Party of “foreign affairs”.
    Stormont stood down , Sunningdale, Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Peace Process (GFA 1998 was Bliar of course but groundwork by Majors government). Or indeedZimbabwe independence. Or the Common Market. Or any European (so called) progress.
    Hard to see a Tory Opposition accepting all that.

  • Zig70

    take the news on Libya translate it to here. Minority rebel force seeks to over throw the undemocratic government. Seen from foreign eyes, say american. I think you have to live in a place 4months or more to start to understand the culture and hence what is best for the locals.

  • JAH

    I’m beginning to wonder if Cameron isn’t a secret pacifist.

    Navy cut
    Airforce cut
    Army cut

    Once the UK leave Afghanistan I doubt if will ever be a serious military power again. The days of Tony’s Wars is well over. And on the Tory watch?

    He can’t even save the Falklands…and could they seriously deploy large troop numbers in Ulster again?

  • I’m still struggling with the opening sentence here:

    British Conservative governments generally don’t really do ‘Foreign Policy’. With the exception of the Suez Crisis and the Falklands war, they have tended to err on the side of caution.

    The Cold War? Berlin crises? US bases in Britain? Decolonisation? Harold Macmillan in South Africa? Heath and Europe? The Reagan era? The break-up of Yugoslavia? Bush I and Kuwait? None of that happened with Tory governments? There were no “risks” involved in any of them?

    I recall that Paul Sharp of the University of Minnesota managed a 270 page study of Thatcher’s Diplomacy: the Revival of British Foreign Policy. It wasn’t all about the South Atlantic (in fact it was more about Thatcher’s constant warring with her own Foreign Secretaries).

    What I found truly interesting about that (very short) James Forsyth piece was how it fits a separate, parallel narrative.

    First there was a general agreement among the “usual sources” that Hague might be less-than-wholly committed to his present post, even to being in government at all. Then, yesterday evening, the same James Forsyth allies with Ben Brogan that Cameron is skating on thin party-political ice:

    He is still seen as the Tories’ primary electoral asset and there is no obvious, or even viable, alternative to him. But when Cameron gets into trouble, this will matter. Politicians don’t forget criticism from their colleagues and there’ll be a few ministers who wouldn’t mind seeing Cameron discomforted a bit.

    In general, Cameron needs to make some more personal allies. It is striking how few MPs are personal Cameron loyalists. As the going gets tougher over the coming months, Cameron is going to need some praetorians who’ll happily walk into the fire for him. He needs to assemble this group from a position of strength not weakness.

  • If they have been even less unprepared, then they were more prepared.

  • Now it’s really getting interesting.

    There’s a story just up on the Telegraph web-site. (Was it in any print edition? Is the lack of a by-line not curious?):

    Allies of Mr Hague have told The Daily Telegraph they believe that criticism of him is being privately encouraged by other Cabinet ministers.
    A senior Foreign Office source said: “The root of the problem for William Hague is that he sits in a Cabinet where several other ministers think they could do his job better than he could.”

    Reading down the name of Gove leaps out. Having made a muck of education, could the dear boy be after more fields to lay waste?

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    …and talking of the Falklands, last week, or the week before, on Question Time, Hezza(Hestletine) stated that Thatch(Thatcher) had ecouraged the Argies(Argentinians) to believe they could invade islands and get away with it.

    I dont recall it ever being put as bluntly as that before- noboy reacted to the statement on the show, so I suspect it was old news, but I cant believe Thatch (an f many Tories) could be best pleased with that interpetation being stated as bold fact.

  • Once is happenstance. Twice is circumstance. Three times is enemy action. [An early Bond novel. Can’t remember which.]

    It is increasingly looking like an attempted Putsch. See Tim Shipman’s story which has just come up on the Daily Mail website:

    Allies insisted last night that Mr Hague – who has been roundly criticised for his slow response to the conflict in North Africa – is determined to stay until the next election.
    But the Mail has learned the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary met privately on Monday evening in Downing Street for a heart-to-heart.
    International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has reportedly been lined up to step in if Mr Hague quits.

    Mitchell is an interesting character. Back in 1994 he voted to restore capital punishment, when he was starting to climb the greasy pole of junior offices in the Major years. Since being retreaded for Sutton Coldfield, he has supported the Iraq excursion, and ran David Davies’s failed leadership campaign. He gained a local reputation for flip-flopping: first being loud to defend Sutton Coldfield’s courthouse, then having it closed down once in government. Even so, he is regarded as “liberal” in his more recent reincarnation.

    Yet it is a hell of a leap from the back-burner of International Development to one of the four main Offices of State (and no minister has more palatial provision than the Foreign Office).

    This should all come with a health warning attached: Mitchell has, in the past, been an enthusiast for Hague, so this “inspired leak” could be a double-bluff.

    Should we read in all this that there is likely to be a reshuffle over the Easter recess? And that the lasses and lads are getting antsy?

  • Turgon

    Malcolm’s observation about Hague and the article he links to are potentially even more interesting than the other piece. It seems fair to observe that Cameron has not taken a particular interest in Foreign policy thus far. However, frequently PMs increase their interest in such things as they remain in office longer.

    Hague is in a difficult position. In many ways he is more talented than most in cabinet. He was also the inevitable leader and future PM until his poorly timed taking of the Tory leadership. Presumbaly he once had ambitions to be PM and the fact that he seems to have been thwarted is lilely to be galling espcially as he is probably more talented than Cameron and he (Hague) was one of the main authors of his own failure to be PM.

    He is also in a difficult position as a far too young “elder statesman.”

    Overall he may be pretty dissatisfied and the nonsense over his private life cannot have helped. He might lack the desire to keep working at the next to but not quite highest level.

    On Lybia itself of course it still seems unclear what will happen. When the revolt started everyone seemed to assume that the Gaddafi regieme would simply fold. However, there are clear historical precedents for the dominio effect not working: China and Tiananmen square following the revolutions in Eastern Europe is a good example. It is also highly unclear what sort of regieme would emerge from the wreckage of an end to Gaddafi. Rightly or wrongly some in the Western World may prefer the prospect of unpleasant secular dictatorships which seem to have stopped support for terrorism to the alternatives.

    We could though end up with the worst of all worlds for everyone: Gaddafi remaining as dictator yet extremely annoyed with the west over their support for the rebels and then possibly more interested in going back down the terrorism supporting route.

  • The band-wagon is getting into second gear: Paul Waugh has clambered aboard and is tootling his flute for Gove.

    Now, c’mon: this isn’t a “poor news day” in need of added froth.

  • andnowwhat

    Firstly, the Beatles were bunch of lying gits. You can buy love but the currency is oil, not cash. I was astounded at Blair welcoming the madman back in ti the international fold.

    Secondly, Cameron has no right to be so poor on foreign policy as the UK is involved in 2 wars, one of which is in the region.

    I agree that it seems that Hague is not really in to the post. Like him or loathe him, he loves his politics big style. I suspect, as has been stated and hinted at here and in linked articles, that the tories are indulging in some backroom back biting. I fear there may be (based on things I have read on the Guardian website) some issues in Hagues personal life.

    Hague is one of those politicians at the complete opposite of my political perspective (anyone who saw the Dispatches programme on the link between the conservatives, which included an interesting bit with Hague addressing the Friends of Israel) but still someone I respect.

    BTW, check out the photo of Gove on MF’s link. Classic

  • andnowwhat

    Apparently, “call me Dave” was on The One show last night where he confessed to having problems with self serevice tills in supermarkets.


  • joeCanuck

    Obviously Hague did not personally dream up the failed mission; the F.O. Mandarins did. Were they setting him up? And were the SAS there to protect the diplomats or were the diplomats there to provide cover for the infiltrated SAS team should they be rumbled. Stange all round.

  • andnowwhat

    Yeah Joe. I was readin the responses on a Guardian blog when this came out and a few ex military types were wondering what the explosives were there for. Apparently there was an unexplained explosion in the area on Friday night.

    Make of that what you will.