Let’s have a new foreign policy

 

         The assertion of Parliamentary authority has rewritten UK foreign policy towards Syria and the wider Middle East. It provides a welcome opportunity to question whether we need a more general review and change.   Over the next few days I will look at the options and problems.  My general view is that we should have a more muscular and independent policy within the EU, and be more discerning about which UN and US led ventures we join. We should put UK national interests and the interests of our related territories and countries and the Commonwealth in more central positions.

         Let us begin with our relationship with the USA. Some are complaining that Parliament’s opposition to military intervention in Syria means the UK is no longer an important world power, sitting at the top table with the USA. They assert we will no longer be  party to the best  secrets of the world’s policeman. The advocates of the “special relationship” with the USA are worrying that the relationship has been badly damaged, as the UK has “to sit out” the Syrian action.

           Much of this is based on a UK misconception. The special relationship was not very special when we needed it most. The USA did not join the war in 1939 and gave us precious little help during the darkest days of the early war. The USA stopped the pursuit of our policy towards Egypt and the Suez Canal in 1956. The USA was far from helpful as we set about the task of recapturing the Falklands Islands. Successive Presidents have often wanted to  pushed the UK more into the EU than is good for us or than we desire.  In return we did not commit forces to the USA’s ill judged Viet Nam war. Thanks mainly to the EU we do not have a free trade agreement with the USA.

          The truth is whatever the aims and views of successive Presidents and Prime Minsters, there will always be very strong links across the Atlantic. The shared language and literature, the large mutual investments in each other’s industry and commerce, the bonds of kinship provide a stable base for other networks. When a President and PM like each other and have a similar political outlook, there can be very close working across the Atlantic on policy and government matters. There will always be many Americans who see the UK as the cradle and partial architect of their democracy, just as many of us will continue to admire greatly the work and words  of the Founding fathers, the achievements of a great society in the pursuit of liberty and happiness.

         The UK needs to understand that there will be times when we disagree or are not useful to the USA. We have to accept that France, for example, may wish to be close to the US over Syrian intervention when we do not. We should not be frightened of telling the USA that we do not agree or wish to sit out a particular intervention or policy, just as they do if we have a need or an idea they do not like. We should press on with a free trade agreement with the USA and explain to the USA why the UK does intend to have a new and looser relationship with the rest of the EU. We are not in the EU to be the voice that tries to moderate EU policies in the US interest.

          To some of us Mr Obama has been a disappointment. He promised to close Guantanamo, but has not done so. He promised to trust diplomacy more and war less in the Middle East, but ended up increasing the military commitment to Afghanistan.  We need to be thinking of who might take over from him, and have our new foreign policy ready to woo and wow them. It has to be a policy more suited to our needs, and less desperate about preserving the outward show of a “special relationship”.

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88 Comments

  1. colliemum
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Yes, I agree with your post in all points.

    You left one important point out, however. That is the general way how our Foreign Office is run. It would seem that they are driven by the special interests of their civil servants and mandarins rather than those of our country.

    Since we do not carry a big stick any longer, pace Teddy Roosevelt, but rather a puny twig, thanks to the ferocious slashing of the defence budgets started by the previous government, we should be even more hard at work to speak softly.

    • APL
      Posted September 1, 2013 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      colliemun: “started by the previous government”

      John Nott did pretty well when it came to destruction of our defense capability.

      The truth of course, the fatted calf of defense is always sacrificed before the golden idol of Welfare.

      • uanime5
        Posted September 1, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        Well the average person does benefit a lot more from welfare than defence.

  2. Nina Andreeva
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    It would be nice if it could happen but there are too many vested interests in maintaining the status quo, Just look at the super sized embassy in Washington for example. If the USA wants to settle old scores with Iran, the new deal should be that if you want the UK along as a fig leaf of respectability, the US pays for everything and a bit more. They could start by buying up the 30% of gilts that currently sit on the Bank of England’s balance sheet. If British lives are at risk in places that we have no business, its more honest that its on the basis that they are mercenaries rather than Gurkha like cannon fodder for the American empire.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      “They could start by buying up the 30% of gilts that currently sit on the Bank of England’s balance sheet.”

      I’d much rather they were held by the Bank, effectively under the control of our government and Parliament, than have them held by the US government.

      The Bank of England is by far the largest single creditor to the government, but it is by definition a friendly creditor; it would never threaten to dump its holdings of gilts onto the market over some disagreement with the UK government.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suez_Crisis#International_reaction

      “The United States also put financial pressure on the UK to end the invasion. Because the Bank of England had lost $45 million between 30 October and 2 November, and the UK’s oil supply had been damaged by the closing of the Suez Canal, the British sought immediate assistance from the IMF, but it was denied by the United States. Eisenhower in fact ordered his Secretary of the Treasury, George M. Humphrey, to prepare to sell part of the US Government’s Sterling Bond holdings. The US Government held these bonds in part to aid post war Britain’s economy (during the Cold War), and as partial payment of Britain’s enormous World War II debt to the US Government, American corporations, and individuals.”

      • nina Andreeva
        Posted September 1, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        Den I think you need to forget about the US inspired run on the pound during Suez. You need to do a bit more research on the difference on buying gilts and what happened with the UK being denied access to the IMFs “special drawing rights”. I would recommend Keith Kyle’s “Suez” as the definitive text. Incidentally SDRs may come back into the news soon as the mix of currencies that make them up are up for reconsideration. If sterling drops out Cameron will have a bigger headache than he has this weekend.

        At the moment all that is happening is not much different from what went on recently in Zimbabwe or any other banana republic you can think of. One part of the state simply creates money from thin air (the BoE) and then uses it to “invest” in the IOUs (gilts) of HMG. Then you have the absurd situation of the interest earned by the lender being returned to the borrower to help him pay his way. All I want is a direct payment from the US for services rendered.

        Actually if you look a little closer at the international financial system, all the major central banks of the world are simply money printing to buy each others debt as of form of mutual support. When that all collapses the army will not be going overseas it will be needed to try and restore order on the streets of Britain.

        • Denis Cooper
          Posted September 1, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

          “Then you have the absurd situation of the interest earned by the lender being returned to the borrower to help him pay his way. All I want is a direct payment from the US for services rendered.”

          The UK Treasury pays the Bank the interest due on the gilts that the Bank owns, but as the UK Treasury owns the Bank it is entitled to all of its profits and so the interest can be recycled to the UK Treasury.

          That would no longer be the case if the Bank sold the gilts to the US Treasury; then the UK Treasury would pay the interest to the US Treasury, and obviously as the UK Treasury does not own the US Treasury that interest would not be recycled.

          So there is a cost to your proposal; it would not be a case of the US paying us for services rendered, as you want, it would be the UK Treasury paying the US Treasury as our largest creditor.

          Plus, if the US government strongly objected to some course of action undertaken by the UK government then once again it could make use of its position as our largest creditor by threatening to dump its holdings of gilts on the market.

          That would make it impossible for our government to borrow by issuing new gilts, until such time as the Bank had once again bought up the surplus gilts from the market with newly created money.

          There is that difference from 1956: probably at that time nobody would have thought that the correct answer to the US government dumping its “sterling bond holdings”, ie gilts, on the market would be for the Bank of England to create enough new money and buy them up.

          Of course I’d prefer to have the US government owning 30% of the gilts issued by our government than have the Chinese government in the powerful position, but rather than either of those I’d much prefer to leave them with the Bank.

          • Nina Andreeva
            Posted September 1, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

            Den with respect can you not see in your first point that HMG is just paying a substantial chunk of its bills with Weimar style printed money (the only difference is the convoluted route before it hits the economy)?

            $ for hiring out the army makes sense as with the $ being the world’s reserve currency it will hit pan well after sterling becomes worthless.

            Anyway if the US wants to restrict the actions of the UK it can do it much more quickly and cheaply than causing another run on the pound. It can, for example, simply turn off vital parts of Trident’s C3I needs and render it useless. So much for the billions we are wasting on a “independent” nuclear deterrent

          • Denis Cooper
            Posted September 2, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

            Yes, I do understand that during QE the Treasury is indirectly borrowing new money from the Bank and using it to fund the budget deficit; in fact I’ve been saying that since the spring of 2009 when it became apparent that the assets being bought by the Bank were almost exclusively gilts, and contrary to the original statements of intent hardly any of the newly created money was being used to buy private sector assets such as corporate bonds.

            I don’t like it, and I particularly don’t like the fact that MPs have never once had a formal debate on a motion to approve the next tranche of QE. Maybe now that MPs have asserted themselves over Syria they will start to think that control of QE should also explicitly rest with their House, not with the Chancellor, and demand that if he proposes more QE then he must first get them to approve his draft letter authorising the Governor to create another vast sum of new money and use it to buy up surplus gilts.

            On the other hand, it has only been the ability of the Bank to create new money and indirectly lend it to the government that has saved us from the same fate as Greece, where the national central bank no longer has that ability.

            Apart from the possibility that the US government might misuse its increased power over our policies, your scheme would only have the effect you desire if the Bank sold its holdings of gilts to the US government and the latter then agreed to their cancellation without any repayment.

            Otherwise, we would be paying the US government interest on the gilts as well as repaying the capital sums when they matured, so overall it would actually cost us more than just leaving them with the Bank.

            Reply The government was defeated over Syria primarily because Laboru voted against – without the Opposition changing sides the governemnt would have won. There has been no debate and vote on QE because the Opposition started the policy and entirely agrees with it.

  3. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    I loved the speech! Well done!

    We had two choices: One was to be towed along like a man on a hobby horse waving a sword, behind the American juggernaut. The other was to stay right out and give up being a major player internationally.

    I am so glad the second alternative was chosen, partly because, from my armchair, I think there was a very strong chance of a real military defeat and/or a full scale war as tempers rose.

  4. lifelogic
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    I agree fully.

    Certainly Mr Obama and Cameron has both been huge disappointments. They are both an embarrassment to left handers. From their silly interventions in the criminal justice systems to their policies at home and overseas and their say one thing in public do the opposite in their actions.

    • Hope
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Have they changed anything? No they did not. Perhaps this should be their mantra for the next election. Continuation of New Labour with spin at the heart of the Tory manifesto. Time for a complete change and then perhaps a new Conservative party will be borne. Osborne, Letwin and Cameron got it all so wrong. What a lost opportunity. As for the pro EU Tory cabinet and former pro EU Tory advisers, Clarke, Heseltineand Major, they also have got the mood of the country completely wrong. Cameron might claim to be the heir to Blaire, but this is the last thing the country wants or needs.

      • lifelogic
        Posted September 1, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        Indeed nearly every policy is 180 degrees out.

    • Hope
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      Cameron was the first PM to go to Egypt after Mubarak was ousted with arm dealers in tow when it was not known what would happen in the country. The FCO should have warned against such action and Hague should also have made that clear. Only last week the military shot innocent protesters dead in the street. Where was Cameron calling for action or apologising for pouring petrol on a fire? Before a new foreign policy is drafted we need a new government and a new sort of politician not the career type that puts spin and PR before thought, consideration and action. Cameron and the Tory leadership have been a disaster and alienated their grass root supporters. Lord Tebbit has pointed out many times that he a d his colleagues need to think through their policy before acting. It, once more, demonstrates how he and his cohorts in cabinet are out of their depth.

  5. Bryan
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    The special relationship only applies when the USA wants something to their advantage from us. Mr Redwood is correct in his submission that when the role is reversed we usually get short change from this so called best friend.

    I read today for example that the USA is now calling France their oldest ally?

    I realise that at the end of the day it is all politics but we really should stop genuflecting to them – it weakens us beyond all measure.

    • Acorn
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      Agreed Bryan, Americans have their own definition of the word “relationship”. In fact, a close / special relationship, is one where you don’t necessarily have to communicate through Lawyers and Courts.

      BTW. In olden days, a Prime Minister losing a foreign policy vote, would be a resigning matter. A going to war vote lost, may have been a dissolving of parliament matter. Alas, not anymore. This coalition government is now dead in the water. I bet the EU Commission is laughing its rocks off today.

      Can we have an election please. You have to ask nicely because the 2011 Act introduced by the coalition, makes it virtually impossible to vote a sitting government out of office, other than at a general election.

      • davidb
        Posted August 31, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        Parliament is theoretically sovereign. It chose a different policy than the executive wanted. It wasn’t a confidence vote. The PM is head of a coalition, he is leader of a minority. I see no reason for his resignation. If every lost vote by a minority leader was a resigning matter the junior coalition tail would wag the senior dog. He should stay where he is. At least until it looks like the Conservatives can win a majority.

        Oh, is it just me, or does the voice of the leader of the opposition make anyone else immediately change channel?

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      The alliance with France goes back to the War of Independence.

    • Sean O'Hare
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Strictly speaking that is probably true as it was the French Navy that assisted them in their War of Independence against the Brits.

    • uanime5
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Well France did help the Americans during the American War of Independence. Specifically by funding their armies and in the later years fighting the war for them.

  6. Peter van Leeuwen
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    When 28 countries manage to unite on whatever foreign policy, it may be a policy, slow to react, but more sustainable. Therefore, efforts to unite on aspects of foreign policy across Europe are valuable.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      I don’t suppose it even enters into your dream world that the result could be the wrong foreign policy?

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted September 1, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

        @Denis Cooper: No guagantees exist of any policy by any country or group of countries to be the right one. There may be more wisdom in a group of countries than in countries going it alone.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Difficult to get 3 countries to agree on anything, let alone 28.

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted September 1, 2013 at 6:03 am | Permalink

        @Mike Wilson: difficult but feasible.

    • libertarian
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      By the time that happened Peter, it would be far far too late to enact said policy. Remind me what role the EU military are taking in this issue. Are Germany and The Nederlands set to launch missile strikes? What was the outcome of the debates on this issue in those parliaments?

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted September 1, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        I don’t want the EU taking up a military role, its role has to be in non-miltary approaches (money, sanctions etc.)

        Dutch parliament and government easily agreed to await the outcome of the UN inpsection mission.

        • libertarian
          Posted September 1, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

          “I don’t want the EU taking up a military role, its role has to be in non-miltary approaches (money, sanctions etc.)”

          So your original point is invalid there is NO point in 28 countries coming together to formulate a strategy. You’ve already decided and you only have one to use in ALL circumstances.

    • Mark B
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      It may also be slow or impossible to change as developments unfold. Think of an oil tanker vs a speed boat. An oil tanker may be able to traverse rough seas, but cannot so easily avoid hidden rocks in its path. The opposite is true of the speed boat.

      It all boils down to what you want to be.

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted September 1, 2013 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        @Mark B: You have a point. For easy manouvring the EU would have to delegate some foreign policy powers to a smaller entity. That is only feasible for small issues, such as facilitating a border issue negotiation between two countries (example Croatia and Slovenia).

        • Denis Cooper
          Posted September 1, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          Peter, I realise that you still cling to your vision of the EU as a United States of Europe, a European federation; but, thank God, it isn’t there yet; despite the aspirations of some such as Heath and D’Estaing and yourself, and despite the pretensions of eurofederalist lawyers on its so-called Court of Justice, the EU is still no more than another international organisation established by treaty between its sovereign member states; so if there’s any delegating to be done it will be by the sovereign member states, not by the EU.

          • Peter van Leeuwen
            Posted September 1, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

            @Denis Cooper: The EU is far too unique to become a USE, and who says that I’m in favour of a USE? In the EU (in this case European Council) sovereign member states make such decisions. Among other things, EU happens also to be a collection of sovereign member states.

  7. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    It takes a stronger mind set to say try to find other ways in a more considered way than immediate retaliation to the Syria crisis, for if these were my children , I would like to personally blow them to pieces. What can we actually achieve by tagging along with the USA, they are determined to strike in some fashion anyway. If they manage to stop the use of chemical weapons , I applaud them and Obama will go down as a hero, if the problem escalates then he will be classed as a warmonger .Reactive emotion at such deliberate slaughter of children evokes the strongest feelings of retribution in most humans, but we are not dealing with people who have these sensitivities, we are dealing with the inhumane.
    A show of strength is also a determination to pacify the world, to turn the other cheek, when ever we can, to forget an eye for an eye , yet that Samaritan keeps coming along to rescue those suffering. It is too late for those children, they cannot be rescued.
    There is a new world out there, which Russia and China and Pakistan and all are part of and we are part of their world. Globalisation is not purely about business, it is about harmony and teaching peace and cooperation. It is time to get the devil instinct out of our lives and use the will of peace which is needed in all its strength to show that humans are indeed a superior race.

  8. Duyfken
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Your ” general view is that we should have a more muscular and independent policy within the EU”, but I suggest that policy should be “within Europe” since the EU will surely disallow any thoughts of independence. I do not see how one can become “more independent” – either we are independent (an absolute quality) or not.

    In other respects your laudable aims could not be achieved with the present Cabinet and administration. At the least, Hague should be replaced and the recent new appointment of the UKREP revoked. Most of all, there should be a clear-out in the FCO.

    Reply As you well know I wish to change our relationship with the EU, leaving the federalist treaties. In the meantime I wish us to pursue our UK interests and our renegotiation in a more determined manner.

    • lifelogic
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      “to pursue our UK interests and our renegotiation in a more determined manner” Could Cameron’s approach be any less determined or more delayed, kicked into the long grass? He has not even told us what powers he wants back yet has he?

      Nick Boles, Diane Abbott, Shirley Williams, Nigel Farage were all on Any Questions last night. Nick Boles sounded very bitter and twisted over Syria and was rubbishing the Greater Switzerland by the sea in the true Coalition/Cameron manner, without any logic or reason of course. The man sounded a complete fool to me on every issue.

      At least it sounds as though the usually, daft as a brush, Diane Abbott had some anti war influence on Miliband, well done to her. Farage was right on the button on every issue as far as I could see. Shirley Williams pleasant enough but daft and confused on most issues in the usual Libdem/”BBC think” manner.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      “leaving the federalist treaties”

      But to leave the federalist treaties you have to leave the federalist EU; you cannot be “within the EU” and not subject to federalist treaties; not unless the EU was changed so fundamentally that it was no longer recognisable as the EU.

  9. Douglas Carter
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Mr. Obama, via means of the words of Mr. Kerry might well cynically spit out the theory that France is the oldest ally of the USA but there will be very experienced and long-memoried personnel in the Pentagon who know full well what it means to be in an alliance with the world’s least constant ally. They might well brush off their history book from October 1983 to give them a small taste of what that means. Mr. Kerry might wish to pray he doesn’t have cause to rue his cheap little jibe in the weeks to come.

    Reply It is true that France is the US’s oldest ally. It just reminds us that Mr Obama still remembers the British role in trying to block US independence, something I think that has always prejudiced his view of modern UK.

    • zorro
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      I suspect that there are more pertinent/familial matters which have had more influence on his view of the UK.

      zorro

    • James Matthews
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      “Mr Obama still remembers the British role in trying to block US independence, something I think that has always prejudiced his view of modern UK. ”

      Well he probably does remember, but I doubt it is the source of his prejudice. More likely to be Britain’s resistance to Kenyan independence, given his family history. What he doesn’t remember of course is that Britain abandoned and then suppressed colonial slavery long before the United States, and treated native Americans rather better than the rebellious colonists.. A selective amnesia shared by most of his compatriots.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Special relationship ?

    BP, banking, Northern Ireland ?

    • lifelogic
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Indeed “British” Petroleum, as the Obama administration kept referring to it. In their, rather pathetic, divert the blame, politics & PR first Obama way. Just like Cameron in fact.

    • Excalibur
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Agreed, and not least, the removal of the bust of SirWinston Churchill from the Oval Office….

  11. Richard1
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    At least with Obama there is not much special relationship – look at his antics on the “malvinas”. As you say in the long run there will always be a good US-UK relationship due to cultural and economic ties and shared outlook. But we need less international posturing from UK ministers. I haven’t heard the views of the Swiss Government, or say the Canadian Govt on Syria, why is there a need for a running commentary from our’s?

  12. alan jutson
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    So let us look at our, and US recent intervention.

    Iraq innocent people still being killed each week.
    Afgahnistan innocent people still being killed each week.
    Libya innocent people still being killed each week.

    Now we have Egypt and Syria at boiling point.

    The common theme with all of these.
    Innocent people killed before any intervention, but it still continues afterwards.

    We simply cannot police the World and we should not try.
    Yes offfer diplomatic help yes, offer humanitarian aid of some sort which is appropriate, but direct intervention No.

    John, do not agree with your concept that many US citizens look to the UK as the mother of democracy.
    The vast majority of people I have spoken to in the US when over there, do not really have a clue as to what happens, or indeed are interested about what happens outside of the US.
    You simply have to look at the World news on their TV.
    If it does not include any element for the US directly, then it does not get a mention.
    Just like their World series baseball competition, how many teams outside the US take part.

    When I was over there many years ago it coincided with the World cup, not a single mention in two weeks because the US was not involved that time.

    It is often quoted that 90% of US Citizens do not hold a passport.
    I have no idea if this is true, but would seem to sum up most of their thoughts which appear to be why do we need to go abroad, we have everything we need here..

    Yes most US citizens I have met have been friendly, welcoming, and are keen to give you their life history, but many have little knowledge of anything outside of the US.

    You are right, let us sort out our own foreign policy, to suit our own Country and our own interests.

    Reply I accept that many US citizens are insular. I was talking about those who write, speak and think about democratic matters. They do in part look to the UK, as we will see at the anniversary of Magna Carta.

    • Acorn
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Agreed, but you have to love their naivety in world affairs. You will struggle to find an American who can name all fifty States. From the Exchange Blog recently:-

      “Merriam-Webster announced on Wednesday the top 10 words of the year, based on how many times they were looked up [by Americans] at Merriam-Webster.com. The list “sheds light on topics and ideas that sparked the nation’s interest in 2012.” Two words shared the top spot: “Socialism” and “Capitalism”.

      “Socialism saw its largest lookup spikes during coverage of healthcare but also saw peaks in the days following both conventions and each of the presidential debates,” according to a release. “Capitalism, although looked up somewhat less often, rode the same waves of interest.” What can we conclude from that? “A very sarcastic answer would be ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican,'” says Paul Nolte, managing director of Dearborn Partners. “Unfortunately, the search indicates very little in the way of middle ground where compromises actually happen.” […] “With socialism and capitalism, it’s clear that many people turned to the dictionary to help make sense of the commentary that often surrounds these words,” says John M. Morse, president and publisher at Merriam-Webster. Interestingly, the list also included “democracy,” the fifth-most-looked-up word in 2012.

      Perhaps this is a digital measure of a failing democracy? Government of the 99% for the 1% by the 1%.

    • alan jutson
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      reply-reply

      Agree with your point John.

      Politicians are usually aware of history (although sometimes this is selective to suit a purpose)
      But the vast majority of the Country simply get their information from the news channels, (like they do here) hence they have little knowledge of anything happening outside of the US, that does not involve the US, which was my point.

      Thus their politicians work in a cosy little bubble, like many do here, yourself excluded.

      Do you think Mr Cameron may now enlarge his circle of advisors given the happenings of the last few days ?.
      Sure as eggs are eggs if he does not, then I fear he will be making even more errors of so called judgement.

  13. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Let’s start with a new Foreign Secretary. Hague has been a disaster. Watching him strutting around giving his bellicose media briefings about Syria before Parliament met, like some boy playing the tough guy, was unbecoming. Since then silence, apart from his obscene and offensive language to describe Miliband reported in the media. The lack of talent on both front benches is palpable. Political leaders are not trusted by the people for good reason. This week Parliament may have begun a process of restoring good faith but listening to Cameron loyalists trying to re-write history of this week’s events isn’t a good sign. Let us remember that Cameron recalled Parliament to get approval for a military attack. The subsequent motion and debate were not what he wanted, nor intended, despite what his sycophantic supporters may try to spin.

  14. Nick
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    The assertion of Parliamentary authority has rewritten
    ==============

    Therein lies the core of the problem.

    You just want to dictate. You don’t want to be subject to democracy unless its a shame that gives the veneer of respectability to your dictating.

    The electorate need to be the arbiters, not you.

    Offer up a referenda on all tax increases to see why you are a dictator.

    Reply Parliament is only strong when it speaks for the people, as I believe it did on Thursday.

    • Chris S
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      “Parliament is only strong when it speaks for the people, as I believe it did on Thursday”.

      Sorry, Mr Redwood, this statement is completely wrong. If Parliament is only strong when it speaks for the people why don’t you table a bill to reintroduce Capital Punishment next week ?

      Following your argument to it’s logical conclusion, Parliament will be weak if it doesn’t vote it through.

      Parliamentarians are elected and a Government is formed to take decisions that are in the best interest of the nation, not just to do the bidding of the majority. Otherwise we might just as well hand over government to the Civil Service and get them to organise frequent referendums to take all necessary decisions.

      Leadership is demonstrated by a PM taking a decision that he believes to be right while knowing it may be unpopular at the time.

      Given the overwhelming likelyhood that Assad is guilty of War Crimes and the evidence now produced by the US to back it up, I would have expected Parliament to have supported the final Government measure when it was put to a vote.

      Normally you and I are in agreement on most things but, on this occasion, leaving aside Miliband’s despicable behavior ( which should be the subject of a separate critique), I am certain your friend’s and allies in the Conservative Party have caused great damage to the PM and our International standing.

      Reply Yet we seem to have prompted the President to rethink his position on this difficult issue!

      • William Long
        Posted September 1, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        Yes, this was certainly a very beneficial consequence and it has also exposed the total lack of any definition of objectives, or a plan for achieving them.

    • matthu
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      John, perhaps you would care to comment how you reconcile your claim that parliament was “speaking for the people” with the facts that a) there was a three line whip imposed on Thursday and b) while every poll or canvassing of opinion that I have seen showed public support for military action at anywhere between 1% and 20%, parliamentary support was very nearly 50%.

      The outcome was fortuitous and certainly not parliament “speaking for the people” or else the outcome would have been very much more conclusive.

  15. Denis Cooper
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    “we should have a more muscular and independent policy within the EU”

    JR, you know as well as I do that the EU is not about member states having independent policies on anything; “within the EU”, our policy must increasingly be the EU policy, not our independent policy; and moreover it is only a matter of time until there is further pressure to make EU foreign policy decisions subject to qualified majority voting, rather than requiring unanimity.

  16. oldtimer
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    The puncturing of the Westminster bubble over Syria indeed provides a timely moment to reconsider the UK`s place in the world. There has been much talk, over the years from the inhabitants of the bubble, about Britain punching above its weight. What they fail to mention is that Britain has also been punching above its means. One manifestation of this is a defence policy and equipment programme that stretches credibility. What do you do with two aircraft carriers without aircraft to fly from them? Unless and until the government gets the nation`s finances in order it is all bluff and bluster.

  17. Mike Wilson
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand any of this. If the motion before the house had been something like …

    ‘That this house:

    believes the Assad regime to be responsible for chemical attacks on the people of Syria
    believes that further attacks can be severely limited by removing the regime’s military air force and installations
    authorizes the imposition of a no fly zone for the regime’s military planes to protect the people of Syria from further attacks
    authorizes strictly limited military action on specific military targets to destroy the regime’s air force capability

    … I think people would have found it difficult to vote against.

    Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to see our bombs destroying innocent civilians. But attacking his air force and military airfields is another matter.

  18. Ron
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Absolutely hits the nail on the head. Now Parliament has awoken and MPs are taking public opinion into account, perhaps we reflect the majority view that we need to address our predicament with the EU sooner than the three part leaders planned?
    But, I agree with your points completely on this matter.

  19. Vanessa
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    How right you are! The main media is so stupid to keep scare-mongering about our relationship with the USA. They seem to forget we used to be two grown-up, mature nations working for our own interests with the help of one another. Now we are told that if we refuse to do anything this relationship will fall apart – but not the other way round (we can ask but the USA refuses, that’s OK, no consequence).

    This exposes the childish, dependent nature of British society now where gratification is NOW or there is a “hissy” fit, nobody steps back and reviews the situation maturely (including the cabinet) and let the emotions calm down to see the real situation.

    Please God let us have a more mature government with some brains in 2015 !

    • Horatio McSherry
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

      The media’s response to Thursday’s vote has been appalling. The BBC have been particulary dispicable. There is currently a video on their website where their reporter is supposedly canvasing the public’s opinion. However they somehow found, in the same newsagents in Huddersfield, a woman who’s husband lives in Syria and wants the UK to bomb Syria, followed by a military expert who also wants us to go lobbing bombs into Syria.

  20. Mark B
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    John Redwood MP said;
    “The assertion of Parliamentary authority . . . . ”

    That was just a temporary glitch. ‘Normal service’ shall be resumed at the next session of Parliament, you’ll see.

    “My general view is that we should have a more muscular and independent policy within the EU . . . ”

    And here is me thinking that you are a Eurosceptic. Eurosceptics’ know that the EU is a political project and would leave if they had half a chance. You cannot have an independent foreign policy whilst being inside the EU. The European External Action Service would not like it. see link

    http://www.eeas.europa.eu/cfsp/conflict_prevention/index_en.htm

    There never was, or has ever been a US/UK Special Relationship. What relationship there has been, is when our two nations share a common interest, nothing more. Before 1939, the US was more likely to go to war with the UK than either Germany or Japan. They sat-out because they did not see it in their national interest, much like Syria is not in our national interest. They only came in after they were attacked in 1941 and then only after Churchill persuaded a reluctant President. The US, prior to 1941 gave aid to the UK, but at an extreme cost. Those run down Corvettes (ships not cars) were not free.

    The US stamped its mark on us well before Suez. When we gave them most of our best ideas, like the jet engine, radar and nuclear secrets, the Yanks after the war would no longer share with us. Some friend.

    No, I for one do not hanker for even a close, let alone a special relationship with an over indebted super power that is in decline. They had their moment in the sun, build with UK gold. The future is East, way beyond the boarders of the EU.

    If you and others cannot see that, then you have no place or right to decide our future.

  21. Man of Kent
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    After watching the John Kerry speech on Syria some points struck me.

    Why was this not made by Obama?

    He seems to have fallen into a mind set akin to Cameron -just take your natural allies for granted -international allies and your party respectively.

    Where is his personal leadership which should have been about lending all possible support to us ,to ensure support for himself ?

    The lack of coordination in timing of the debate and the Kerry announcement illustrates depressingly the state of presumption on both sides of the Atlantic.

  22. Bert Young
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Having been knocked off the top perch many moons ago by the US , we must accept that our role in the world has changed . In time the US will suffer the same fate ( consult the history books for proof ) and will have to eat humble pie . Following WWII , if we had been offered a “Marshall Plan” – along the lines of Germany , perhaps our own economic history would have been different and we would not be so dependent on the US as we are now . I shudder at the thought that we could be threatened yet again by a run on Sterling and be forced into surrender . I believe that our most sensible course is to re-cement the commonwealth into an economic bloc .It is the Queen and not Cameron who can do the trick .

  23. Romsey
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I apologise for adding nothing substantive to the debate but I thought this was a simply superb article – intelligently written and right on the money.

  24. Atlas
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    John, you make good points. Indeed you mentioned the Vietnam war. Lessons for all there.

  25. Tom William
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    On the Falklands War it is true that the USA was initially not outspokenly on our side because they also had strong Latin American interests. But when the chips were down they supplied us with the latest Sidewinder AIM 9L air to air missiles, without which the air battle might not have been won. Whether Obama would have done this is another matter.

    And on intelligence matters there is a very special relationship with the UK, and a rather special one with Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

  26. cosmic
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    “The assertion of Parliamentary authority has rewritten UK foreign policy towards Syria and the wider Middle East.”

    What was this foreign policy towards the wider Middle East and particularly Syria which has now been rewritten? How did refusing to take part in this missile attack, which few could see any point to, cause it to be cast aside?

    It’s a serious question because on the face of it, the proposed cruise missile attack appeared to be good intentions, based on emotional reaction and not part of any greater scheme, for instance regime change was said not to be a goal. It’s hard to see how this fits in with a policy.

    So, was the foreign policy which has been re-written, to take serious action on the spur of the moment based on feelings? If so I’d say there wasn’t a serious thought-out policy to advance British interests, so much as a poorly defined intention to meddle whenever we felt like it.

  27. peter davies
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I have my doubts that by showing some common sense for once and not wagging the Americans tail will weaken the UK at all. The USA does what is of interest to the USA – and as you rightly say, we need to be the same.

    A few months is a long time in politics, something else will happen and this will be either all forgotten or the USA will (though not admit) that this was all ham fisted, and the UK govt will be glad they were prevented from getting involved by the HOC vote.

    I fear this whole episode has the makings of something which could get extremely ugly with huge consequences – such as the West lining up against Iran, Syria, Russa and China

    I just hope the USA takes heed and does not go into this alone or at all – after all if the Chinese wanted revenge they could sink the US dollar overnight and wreck their economy and ours without firing a shot.

  28. A.Sedgwick
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Yes to your headline and I agree with much that you say. We have to break away from our history and stop pretending that we are a world power. Perversely by not backing the USA on Syria we appear more influential on the world stage than if we had fallen into line. You mention the Falklands, their lack of support for the Islanders and our determination to allow them their freedom continues with this Administration.

    Cameron’s decision to emasculate the Royal Navy was a prime example of his lack of reality and strategy for the UK in the 21C. The voices against this decision were many, varied, professional and powerful. Heath ditched the Commonwealth for a group of close neighbours, who have largely given us pain over the centuries. The Commonwealth is an amazing organisation. Amazing that we, as a people, spread our language, some culture, trade and ways of life to so many countries and amazing that so many of them want to remain within this club. Cricket is another amazing piece of the British heritage and jigsaw and I am always delighted when I hear a cricket player or commentator from overseas using jargon and slang that is probably as old as the game.

    Our armed forces and foreign policy should be heavily geared to border protection, protecting our sea lanes to our overseas interests and the protection of our people overseas.

  29. A E PHILP
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Well said.

  30. Bernard Otway
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Someone mentioned the Falklands, the malvinas to argentina,their claim is based on GEOGRAPHIC PROXIMITY even though they are more than 400 miles from argentina,and the fools in the USA go along with this.I once when talking to a very senior politician in South Africa said that IF geographic proximity counted then ALL of Africa should acknowledge that the group of islands which comprise the oil bearing area which makes Equatorial Guinea and its dictator Obiang so wealthy,ACTUALLY are really territory of Cameroon because they are within miles of it,s coast and are only part of Equaroirial Guinea
    because of Colonial boundaries drawn by wicked colonialists moons ago,actually they are
    located in the same oil bearing geological formations which give Nigeria it,s oil.I then said the colonial borders of Africa would one day more resemble proper boundaries had Africa been hermetically sealed 400 years ago Just the look on his face said EVERYTHING.
    Syria is just such a COLONIAL CONSTRUCT as are many countries like Iraq,Libya etc.

    • peter davies
      Posted September 1, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      I find it extremely rich when the President Of Argentina refers to the Falkand Islanders as ‘squatters’ when many have roots going back some 200+ years not to different from the majority of the Argentinian population whose roots go back to Europe from the same era. Such statements must make her sound ridiculous yet the USA still sits on the fence with this issue

    • uanime5
      Posted September 1, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Syria and Iraq aren’t colonial constructs as they were mentioned by Ibn Battuta when he travelled through them in the 14th century. Though these areas were usually part of a larger empire (such as the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, or the Il Khanate) rather than independent countries.

      Also the coastal areas of Libya were part of the Ottoman Vilayet of Tripolitania from 1551 to 1911. After 1911 it became an Italian colony, was occupied by Britain during WW2, was split into 3 parts after WW2, then was reunited in 1951. So also not a colonial construct.

  31. Leslie Singleton
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    What this Kerry chap says or not shouldn’t worry us too much. He is just shooting himself in the foot. His Francophilia and phonia are well known and don’t do much for his popularity at home. I have lived in America, worked most of my life for Americans, know many well personally and was married to one and most of them have an opinion of the French (not to be confused with how romantic Paris is supposed to be) that on recent form you would not give your imprimatur to. It’s just our bad luck that we are so geographically close to France.

  32. John Wrake
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood,

    Parliament is not strong, It has a government in coalition for lack of party strength, an Opposition in disarray from weak leadership, a House of Lords mainly composed of Party placemen and it has illegally surrendered power abroad.

    The debate on Syria resulted from a massive input of the views of ordinary citizens injecting a little realism.

    It takes a lot for the average Englishman to get his dander up, but government efforts just achieved it this week. More of a case of the people speaking for parliament, I suspect.

    It could happen again very soon.

    John Wrake

  33. John Bolton
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood, I am not happy with your reply to ‘Nick’ Did parliament speak for the people? Probably, but for the wrong reason. Some principled members (Cons and LDs) voted against the motion or at least abstained but I suspect the majority of the opposition merely voted to discomfort the PM. Of course, under the present set up, this is their right but please not pretend it was to represent the citizens of this country. It was for party advantage and nothing more.

  34. zorro
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Well done John, this is far more statesmanlike and realistic than Cameron or Hague. Our foreign policy objectives should be attuned to the international interests of supporting trade amongst nations, encouraging good relations through diplomacy, and improving the lives of people, not destroying them, and most of all attuned to the national interests of the UK and our economic interests. This includes the interests of ALL the people and not a few rich individuals who benefit from chaos.

    As I mentioned previously, the US is far more sanguine in defining to the letter its interests and is quite content to sell others down the river when necessary. I know that you are not encoraging a similar attitude, but rather a less slavish following of their ‘agenda’ than has been evident over the years.

    Yes, the US did eventually, after two and a half years intervene into WW11. Anything before or after did not come for free. We paid for it, and were paying for it until a few years ago. There are other examples of this which you mention such as Suez, Vietnam, and Northern Ireland. The US only respect you if you stand up to them. That is fact. If not you are in all reality ‘useful saps’.

    zorro

  35. forthurst
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    “To some of us Mr Obama has been a disappointment. He promised to close Guantanamo, but has not done so. He promised to trust diplomacy more and war less in the Middle East, but ended up increasing the military commitment to Afghanistan.”

    It’s just the way it goes; the authors of the telprompter scripts employed in order to package and sell the Obama product are different to those deciding policy and constructing the scripts now. Obviously, the Nobel Peace prize committee were unaware of this nuance.

  36. forthurst
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    (Asks about sources of UK intelligence and includes a link which did not work so I could not check it out. )

  37. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Obama has just made his speech. He has made it clear that he will not abide by a united nations decision , but he will take it to congress. Putin says that if the US has incontrovertible evidence of who is to blame for the attacks then he must take it to the UN. This is a reasonable request even though Kerry says he knows. Kerry knows , but the rest of the world does not know.
    As with Cameron , this is not a show of bad leadership ; it demonstrates his allegiance to his Country, he pushes his own opinion, but not at the expense of his democratic responsibilities. A poor leader does not back down when he can foresee that the consequences of an action could lead to more strife. Obama is straggling the fence of doubt and a desire to act. We in the world will not gain power by aggression.
    Obama says that the heinous act must be confronted. I doubt whether anyone anywhere disagrees with that, but how and when it is to be confronted is the pivotal issue.
    Many scenarios can be seen to place blame as well ;for example which group could play the fall guy? or which unaffiliated sect may be mischief making? We have to know and the appropriate persons brought to trial for war crimes.

  38. Leslie Singleton
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Already, and without much new having happened, Ashdown is saying Parliament could “reconsider its position”. I never thought different you will remember but I didn’t think it would be as quick as this. There was and remains a lot of logic behind the Royal Prerogative and it’s just another of Cameron’s mistakes that he decided not to use it, making us look idiots.

    • JImF
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

      Cameron – not quite as idiotic as he would have looked having won a whipped vote then Obama pulled out… what would he have done, gone alone?

      • Leslie Singleton
        Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

        JImF–Except of course that Obama would not have pulled out if we hadn’t jogged his elbow

      • alan jutson
        Posted September 1, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

        JImF

        “…..If Obama pulled out……”

        Indeed, he has not looked comfortable in his own shoes of late when being interviewed on this subject.

        You just have to look at the body language, and listen to the tone of his voice.

        Problem is, he will now look weak in the eyes of many Americans if he now chooses not to act.

    • Leslie Singleton
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

      Later–Also, I can honestly say I simply never believed that America would go ahead just with France and furthermore I cannot see this latest idea of what might be called cold-blooded retrospective pure punishment strikes in 10 days going ahead either or even a Congressional vote on the subject. I now reckon it likely that there will be a “surprise” win-win rapprochement of some kind on Syria when Obama goes to Russia thus enabling Obama to back off with honour. I remain of opinion that Cameron will even now be dreaming up a way of getting a new motion – any motion better than nothing – on Syria to relieve him of his problem.

  39. lojolondon
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Obama and Kerry both demonstrably dislike Britain, there is no special relationship. Only 9% of Americans want to attack Syria, likewise a similar number of Brits are willing to attack Syria before the evidence is presented. I personally believe the attacks are by the FSA. If that turns out to be the case and Obama has carried out an unjustified attack on Syria, I hope that will be sufficient to have him impeached.

    • forthurst
      Posted August 31, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      Obsolutely. It simply doesn’t make sense for Assad to attack civilians with poison gas near Damascus. What possible strategic advantage could he have been trying to obtain? This is the same point as Putin is making. All Obama did with his stupid red line was tell the ‘rebels’ and our friends, Israel and Saudi Arabia what sort of false flag to pull off, together with the associated false intelligence, and bingo, another on the neocon shopping list falls.

  40. JImF
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Great that a few tens of Tory MPs can run both UK and US foreign policy. Go for it, I say!

  41. Leslie Singleton
    Posted September 1, 2013 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    I have just been reading tweets and stuff elsewhere and can hardly believe all the twaddle about so-called “humiliation” (which merely losing a vote is not my idea of) either of Cameron or, prospectively, Obama. As regards Cameron, it’s not as if it was a Confidence vote or even close. I hold no brief for Obama but I think he has been brilliant, at least from his personal perspective, and now cannot lose. When he spoke of red lines he didn’t mean to imply lobbing in missiles without more ado and he can now go whichever way Congress votes, after a ton of deliberation, and either way come out of a difficult situation smelling of roses. Let’s hope that the serpentine Miliband is the one to be truly humiliated.

  42. Gordon451
    Posted September 1, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    A new foreign policy: all well and good, but who amongst the Conservative leadership could take over from Hague or preferably Cameron to develop a policy on those lines that strengthens the UK?

  43. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Agreed 100%. Now follow the argument where it leads. We do not want a special relationship with the USA; we want a business relationship.

    One of the protests we need to make is against the parasitic USA legal system, which unfortunately has the backing of this anti-British president. BP and British banks are being persecuted. The conduct of BP’s US sub-contractors in the matter of the oil spillage was much more culpable than that of BP. The sum of the civil actions against British banks for rigging LIBOR in America is greater than their entire revenue during the period concerned.

    There is something that we can do in about it in our country. Television ads urging people to sue for negligence by the medical profession have increased in number. We need to put a stop to it by having a specific Statute of medical negligence that makes it clear that an understandable error of judgement is not negligence. If anyone doubts the need, consider that health spending in the UK is 9.5% of GDP; in America it is 17%.

    As for the EU, we need to abolish the concept of EU law. Past, present and future EC Directives are to be incorporated into British law one by one only if the UK Parliament says so. That’s the renegotiation needed.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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