UK politics. World events. Bureaucrat released.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

A bit simple

It's clear that, across the Middle East, we're seeing a wave of revolution on a scale similar to the 1989 collapse of the Soviet republics of Eastern Europe. Tunisia, then Egypt and now Libya. And the British Government has struggled to keep up.

The Libya crisis has tested the Government the most. The Foreign Office failed to see it coming, with diplomats reportedly saying - as President Mubarak of Egypt fell - that Gaddaffi would be safe. And the crisis coincided horribly with David Cameron popping up on a tour of the Middle East to sell arms (part of Britain's mercantilist foreign policy - trade missions to woo India here, selling arms to the Middle East there), when Colonel Gaddaffi began to point British-sold arms at his own people as they rallied against him and for their democratic rights.

Since then, Cameron and Hague have been floundering. Cameron was this week cut loose by the United States on the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya. Hawkish in a statement to Parliament on Monday, he was toning down any military rhetoric at PMQs on Wednesday. There are reportedly splits in the Cabinet, with Hague and Clegg having to fend off interventionist aspirations from Fox, Gove and Osborne. Cameron, meanwhile, is stuck in the middle.

All of this smacks of the Government having not quite become used to being a Government. Its handling of the crisis has consisted of statements one might expect of an Opposition, where it doesn't in the end bear responsibility. Talking up a no-fly zone without checking whether the United States was up for it was inept and damaging for British foreign policy. And the Government has seemed flat-footed on its recently completed strategic defence review - flirting with the idea of a no-fly zone in the same few weeks as decommissioning one of Britain's few aircraft carriers and laying off a hundred or so pilots in the middle of their training. They say that the UK's defence review doesn't need a rethink, that we're not cutting our Armed Forces too far and too fast.

I'm not sure I belive them. And here's why. The Libya handling reflects one of the most troubling aspects about the Government that Nick Clegg's Lib Dems have allied themselves too. It's all a bit simplistic. Economic policy is about cuts. Foreign policy is about trade and national security. Domestic policy is about... cuts and the Big Society, a good idea in dire need of some detail and leadership. The Government needs a deeper sense of what it is trying to do for Britain and where it is taking us. Simple messages are good, but not if the policies behind them are simplistic.

That, I believe, is the real issue that should worry Liberal Democrats worried about the Coalition Government that we have joined.

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