Political Promise

Candid Cameron

In Michael Indian on August 10, 2010 at 10:26 am

By Mike Indian

For any pundit of British politics, August is the time to pack your bags and a good book and head for foreign parts. All is quiet at Westminster and will be until Parliament returns in September. Indeed, for the last few years, this formula has proven itself to be a tried and tested method.

However, not only has 2010 offered a new government, but a government whose Prime Minister has claimed that its work will not falter over the so-called silly season. So far, David Cameron has been a man of his word.

The powers of coincidence have drawn the rumblings of the first political storm around Cameron, following the controversial comments made in Pakistan on its commitment to the fighting terrorism. The BBC’s James Langdale quipped that only in Britain could we have a diplomatic row with a country whilst hosting its head of  state, providing aid to it and playing test cricket against them in the same weekend.

These remarkable intersections of events have served to raise the interest in Pakistan in the national consciousness, but they have also posed the Prime Minister with the first crucial test of his individual competence. So far, David Cameron’s position has been tested largely within the context of his coalition. His skills as a negotiator and pragmatic leader have been praised, damned, analysed and dismissed, as Mr Cameron has been judged by his relationship with his colleagues from both parties. Now though, he stands in the full glare of the international scene and it is a curtain up that has delivered mixed results.

Candid Cameron has ruffled more than a few diplomatic feathers. Whereas his off the cuff, casual, town hall meeting approach to Q&A has served him well at home, major questions have to be asked about whether this approach is the one that is best for Britain?

The answer is a cautious yes. Several times now, I have referenced my own perceptions of the years of Blair government and of a foreign policy that seemed aggressive in every way I despised and passive in every way I loathed. Brute militarism in Iraq was hidden beneath layers of dossiers, buzz words and a single number designed to capture our attention. The fact we are still so fervent to discern the cause, the reasoning and legality of it all now, reflecting the shroud under which British foreign policy was conducted over a large part of my lifetime.

Whether or not I agree with the exact nature of David Cameron’s remarks in relation to Pakistan, Gaza or any other country is beside the point. What is to be admired is the apparent volition with which he treats most of what he has said. We see this clearly in the case of Pakistan. No apology or statement of retraction. In international politics, the perception of conviction is all important.

Nevertheless, honesty is a two edged sword. Many may point to Margret Thatcher’s dramatic tearing up of diplomatic policy in the negotiation of the return of EEC subsidies as an example of how a frank diplomacy can breed success. However, the diplomatic game can only be won if your fellow players are on the same board as you. History’s greatest example of this failure came in 1938 and the lost dreams of peace in our time.

One cannot draw a direct parallel, but the lessons are there for David Cameron. A Prime Minister who forges a bold, unilateral and individualistic role in their country’s diplomacy must maintain a sense of perspective. David Cameron’s candour is a breath of freeze air to the people of Britain, but it might leave him gasping on the global stage.

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