Monday, July 14, 2008

Conservative Foreign Policy

As the likelihood increases that 2010 will see a Conservative Government, it's probably a good idea to examine what that might entail. For all the bleating on the 'purist' right and the desperate left that the Tories have no policies, there is a lot of evidence on domestic policy for what a Tory Government would look like. But domestic policy is not the be-all and end-all of modern politics. Tony Blair's regime will be remembered less for its cautious domestic half-reforms and public-sector splurges than for its bellicose foreign policy and gung-ho interventionaliam.
So what does Tory foreign policy look like? Well, there are two eternals in British foreign policy: the 'special relationship' with the United States and the relationship with the European Union. On the first of these, despite Nick Cohen's assertions, there is no reason to believe that the special relationship will be damaged under the Conservatives. It is true that the Tories have closer links to the Republicans than they do to the Democrats, but even if Obama does win, both sides will realise that friendly relations are in their best interests. For all the talk of 'close but not slavish' relations, there will be little change in Anglo-US relations regardless of the incumbents.
It's the European angle that will be interesting. The old battles that split the Tories are over - the Euro-sceptics have won. While there is a question as to whether Hannan's first law of politics (that no party is Euro-sceptic in power) will hold, it is probable that a new era of Euro-fractiousness beckons. In most ways this is a good thing. The British population is becoming more and more scpetical about the benefits of a supra-national organisation, especially one that seems to be increasingly un-democratic, even anti-democratic. It is, therefore, appropriate that these views are shared by the Government. The question is not, however, what the basic tenor of Tory European policy will be, but rather what, specifically will they do?
The first and most obvious potential flashpoint is the Lisbon Treaty. If the Irish haven't been bullied into a new referendum by the time the Tories get in, the solution is obvious and, as far as the British are concerned, uncontroversial. Hold a referendum, and campaign for a No vote. Easy. It would be dynamite in Europe, but there is now a lot of scope for a British Prime Minister to play the moral high ground. Frame it as an attempt to reverse the democratic deficit, return power to the people - that sort of thing. The problems for the Tories begin if Lisbon has been ratified - then we'll see squabbles.
However, in all probability, Tory foreign policy will be determined by how they react to unexpected and unpredictable difficulties. No-one after all, in 1995, would have predicted that Tony Blair would take Britain into war five times. In other words, people who complain that the Tories do not seem to have a coherent foreign policy are forgetting that Britain is no longer a rain-maker in global politics - we are now a reactive power. Having an approach but not a policy is not an inappropriate response.

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