The last couple of weeks have been by far the biggest for the coalition government in London. The Libyan uprising has not only been David Cameron’s first big foreign policy test, but his reactions to it have not been great.
The last couple of weeks have found the raised a lot of questions about the coalition. Cameron was on tour with arms manufacturers and the increasingly marginalized Nick Clegg was skiing in Switzerland and had forgotten that he was in the role of acting prime minister. The Foreign Secretary William Hague stalled and repeated unverified rumours about Gaddafi leaving from Libya and mysteriously declining to call a meeting of the service heads. Both huge mistakes, you would have thought that after Iraq and Blair’s actions that senior ministers would be far more careful about passing on unsubstantiated rumour.
This week, the Government will be cross-examined in the Commons on its performance thus far and what went wrong with the extraction of UK nationals from Libya. Labour has settling into opposition rather well and Douglas Alexander is becoming an increasingly impressive Shadow Foreign Secretary, is right to insist that the statement be made to the house by Cameron, rather than William Hague.
It may have been the governments first test, but it’s not big enough to really show any level of incompetence beyond doubt. But there are still very serious questions to be asked, and it’s right that the PM who answers them in the house.
This week, the Government will be cross-examined in the Commons on its performance thus far and what went wrong with the extraction of UK nationals from Libya. Douglas Alexander, the increasingly impressive Shadow Foreign Secretary, is right to insist that the statement be made by the Prime Minister rather than William Hague.
The last seven days have not been good for the Coalition. The PM on tour with arms manufacturers; Nick Clegg forgetting on the slopes of a Swiss ski resort that he was meant to be Acting Prime Minister; Hague stumbling uncharacteristically as precious hours ticked by, reporting flaky rumours about Gaddafi’s supposed flight from Libya and mysteriously declining to call a meeting of Cobra. This was hardly the Coalition’s Hurricane Katrina – a crisis that revealed, definitively and beyond doubt, an administration’s structural incompetence. But there are still very serious questions to be asked, and it should be the PM who addresses them in the Commons.
This was not the administrations “Hurricane Katrina” moment, it is merely embarrassing rather than a real challenge to his credibility. but it is embarrassing for a man trying to find his place on the world stage. It’s not only the British PM that’s in this position. The US government largely stood there immobile. The UN and EU got involved, made noises about statements and resolutions, but ultimately nothing happened.
The British government has it’s own hawks, notably in George Osborne. The chancellor seems to be moving past William Hague as the PM’s true deputy in the government. There have been a number of reports that Osborne and not the foreign secretary is pulling a lot of the strings and is the real interventionist at the sharp end of this government.
In a speech in Kuwaiti last week Cameron said that it’s not for the West to impose their ideals and values on the region, but warned that “we cannot remain silent in our belief that freedom and the rule of law are what best guarantee human progress and economic success”.
In the same Kuwaiti speech Cameron said “political and economic reform in the Arab world is not just good in its own right, but it’s also a key part of the antidote to the extremism that threatens the security of us all”.
This hardly contains the power of the “Blair Doctrine” Chicago speech of 1999, where Blair laid out his thoughts on pre-emptive intervention under certain circumstances (see this post), but it is a step to defining what his government believes in and the countries place on the world stage. It is true that the current government sees the world (and the UK’s role in it) very differently to that on Labour a decade ago, but there are times when Cameron feels a little uncomfortable about the global legacy he inherited from Blair.