Saturday, 17 April 2010

Looking Ahead to the Second Debate

In this post, Bunnco - Your Man on the Spot, looks ahead to the second Leader's Debate and wonders how the battle will be fought on the ground and which weapons will help Clegg, Cameron & Brown

About 10 years ago Bunnco was involved with the fundraising campaign to rebuild the American Library in Norwich, which had been lost in a disastrous fire in 2004. People in Norfolk have long memories about how the Over-Sexed-and-Over-Here Yanks fought alongside us in WWII and the USAAF 8th Airforce, 2nd Air Division Association is still going strong with a New Generation of supporters.

The money was raised and the Library was opened just after 9/11. And every year-or-so the Association asks a prominent politician to deliver an address around about Armistice Day on foreign affairs and defence in a keynote speech. Douglas Hurd delivered one a few years ago and last November it was Gen Sir Richard Dannatt's turn. Dannatt's a local man in Norfolk and Bunnco went along to hear.

As an aside, I was privileged to sit alongside two genuine WWII airmen, one of whose Texan wife had some quite fruity things to say about Obama! But that's another story.

The obvious topics for Foreign Affairs are Europe, Immigration, 'The Global Recession', the 'Global Consensus' on Terrorism. But what's not so obvious is the link between defence and foreign affairs.

And what Dannatt told the audience last November made the non-obvious connection between Foreign Policy and Defence, which I want to highlight because the next Leaders' Debate is all about 'Foreign Affairs', which will inevitably include Defence, an area where I consider Brown to be weak at a point in time where he is weakened himself.

Now I know Dannatt has been revealed to be a Tory, but no matter, he explained quite lucidly that Military Force is the means by which you prosecute your Foreign Policy when you can't get your own way by talking alone. As they say, 'jaw-jaw is better than war-war' but if jaw-jaw fails...

Like all good ideas, it's obvious when it's pointed-out but it got me thinking Politically and, now that the Leaders debate is upon us, it's worth thinking about what that obvious link between Foreign Policy and Defence means for next week and who might do best.

My initial observation is that, under Labour, the tight link between Foriegn Policy and Defence hasn't been obvious. Milliband appears to me to have been focused on Europe and 'Terrorist' Issues. Brown's clearly never been interested in the Military. And the MoD has been caught in the middle, unloved, and treated like just one of the other 'spending departments'.

And because the Political Case for the various wars was not clearly articulated to the population, the Military have not had the clear steer about how to fight and certainly it's been stop-start on the equipment required. The reasons for Afghanistan have drifted from 'peace-keeping' to 'terrorism' to 'drugs' to 'Iran'. It's hardly surprising that we're in a military muddle with Brown and Milliband disinterested in the consequences of their actions, whilst briefing against each other in the real war - that between Blairites and Brownites.

Meanwhile, the Public is behind 'Our Boys' and the love of our Servicemen contrasts with the loathing of those that have put them in harm's way.

Brown simply has to keep the Foreign Affairs brief away from Defence but it's difficult to see how he can when military action is the expression of foreign policy.

Ok, so let's conflate Foreign Affairs and Defence and try to see how the Leaders' Debate might pan-out next week.

In the Blue Corner, Europe's an issue Cameron seems to have taken the rap for even though it's Labour that's broken its Manifesto promise to hold a referendum. The debate is probably his chance to set the record straight and claw-back the UKIP-waverers.

Cameron's made a big play of setting up a War Cabinet to address the Afghanistan issue properly and I think this will be popular and be seen to be decisive and supporting 'our boys'. Immigration is also something that plays to foreign affairs, where Cameron scored well last Thursday. He could build on the success here in a Stateman-like manner.

In the Yellow Corner, Clegg's a bit of a one-trick pony on defence - stop Trident and that alone cannot sustain a 90-minute debate when we're fighting a war. The LibDem europhile tendancy could be damaging in the South West, where there's a healthy scepticism.

Perhaps he'll fall-back on the anti-Iraq meme that played well in 2005... it's about the only USP that might help. With the spotlight-on, Clegg's got an uphill battle to develop a coherent foreign/defence strategy that holds water without sounding too pro-European or Pro-Euro at a time most of the EuroZone wants to get out.

In the red corner, Brown's on a bit of a sticky wicket at the worst possible time. He's on the back-foot and Foreign Affairs & Defence are away from his 'secure-the-recovery' comfort-zone. His mis-handling of The Military Covenant will leave him exposed to questions from servicemen in the audience. Cue the drop-jaw and Clunking Fist.

He's going to have to rely upon is his work with the G20 where he 'saved' the world. But didn't. And this will invite comparisons with the relative economic performance of our overseas peers. Copenhagen wasn't exactly the big success he hoped for and can anyone remember that Yemen conference in February? His best shot is having a go at the Global Bank Tax that he tells us has worldwide backing but of which we are still to see the evidence. It's all a bit flakey really.

The Sky News guys must be rubbing their hands with glee as the viewing figures in digital-TV households go through the roof. Boulton is a more robust interviewer than Alistair Stewart and there'll be some more rigour there. It will be his job to keep to the Foreign Affairs subject matter - a hard task. And away from Tractor Stats.

But it certainly isn't going to be a re-run of last Thursday. The subject matter is heavier and more demanding. Cameron should be best prepared and able to fight this battle on the ground more to his liking. Clegg's got a lot to catch-up on and I'm not sure that Saint Vince is going to be much help. Who is the LibDem head of foreign affairs?

If Brown can keep the debate away from defence and immigration and onto the 'Global' Recession, he'll be best-advantaged but this is fraught with difficulty as we have compared poorly economically with our peers. I just hope all three Leaders are less practiced and more 'themselves' - we'll get more out of it and the narrative will turn again just as the postal votes are issued.

Bunnco - Your Man on the Spot


Plato said...

Great post - thanks - and I have NO IDEA who the LD FS shadow bod is - I can't even guess at it.

LondonStatto said...

Is it Dead Avey?

Richard Manns said...

The LibDem Shadow Foreign Secretary is one Ed Davey. Or, as we all him in our circles, "Who?"

On further research, I've seen his face around, but his most famous proposal seems to have been that we should "have tea with the Taleban".

I'm a Tory, but I really can't see this LibDem wave continuing. What will the LibDems do when not allowed generalised platitudes about "we're different from the other 2"? The next debate will force the question, "how are you different?"

The Lib-Dems might do better on the 3rd, if they can hammer on about their "most costed approach than the others", but all 3 are a little weak here and the Tories have the home advantage on the economy ("everyone knows the nasty Tories cut better than anyone else, so will you vote for them if you secretly know that nasty cuts are needed?").

My one fear is that, since I reckon Bunnco has nailed it in theis article so well, it's too pro-Tory!

Anonymous said...


Thank you, bunnco, a very thought-provoking post.

If the location of the debate matters with respect to Europe, I am wondering whether European agricultural & fishery policies may get an airing.

NoOffenceAlan said...

I think the Gary McKinnon case might get an airing in the second debate - where US citizens are harder to extradite to the UK than in the other direction.

ascorbic said...

On Europe the Lib Dems have their inspired policy of offering a referendum on EU membership, which could go some way towards neutralising that issue down here in cider and Ukip country.