After Tony Blair: The First Labour Party Annual Conference under the Leadership of New Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Revealed Few Foreign Policy Surprises, Observes Westminster Commentator and Political Analyst Adel Darwish

By Darwish, Adel | The Middle East, November 2007 | Go to article overview

After Tony Blair: The First Labour Party Annual Conference under the Leadership of New Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Revealed Few Foreign Policy Surprises, Observes Westminster Commentator and Political Analyst Adel Darwish


Darwish, Adel, The Middle East


WITHIN MOMENTS OF Foreign Secretary David Miliband's first speech to the annual party conference in September, news networks began rounding up the usual suspects for their analysis on whether, under new prime minister Gordon Brown, Britain was about to see a substantial change in foreign policy?

Was the youngest Labour foreign minister in three decades, voicing his master Gordon Brown's thinking of a 'new vision', or was the ship sailing the same old course, reprinted on fancy charts to woo an electorate suspicious of the logic of our US ally's foreign policy?

A new course, different from Washington's, which would therefore distance Brown from his predecessor Tony Blair, inventor of the term 'ethical foreign policy' that took the UK into four wars, was what was called for. But was it what the British electorate got?

Arab journalists took Miliband's words at face value. They alarmed--or delighted--their readers by, wrongly, concluding that Her Majesty's government was on a new course flying in the face of America.

Not familiar with the subtleties of Westminster's frequently ambiguous terminology, some American reporters also questioned 'a rift' between the two war allies? Could it be Brown was worried by the new Franco-American love affair, especially since President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is taking a much tougher line on Iran than Brown's, was invited to address a joint session of the Congress.

Pulling British troops out of Iraq contradicts an earlier understanding--Tony Blair's vow of 'standing shoulder to shoulder' with the US, which intimated that troops who went in together would pull out together. Washington, rife with gossip about 'defeat' in Basra, fuelled speculation, in the UK and the Middle East, that the French, who risked neither lives nor money, might have already stepped into the breach.

Unlike his speeches as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Prime Minister Brown's view of the world at the Labour Party conference lacked clarity.

Foreign affairs, which have loomed so large over the Labour government's recent fate, was given only passing attention. Brown ticked boxes rather than setting out a coherent world view.

Arab commentators reached their false conclusion through the customary assistance of the British left who found in Miliband's speech what they missed in Brown's.

Miliband came to bury Blairite foreign policy, not to praise it. He came to lament the 'scars of 10 years of government', to explain patiently, half a dozen times, how we must all learn lessons from the past.

"A decade of good intentions" and "trying to extend western values of freedom and democracy to other countries had led many in the Muslim world to believe we are seeking not to empower them but to dominate them," Miliband noted and, while overthrowing tyrants like Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic was good work, it was not good enough without plans to rebuild the country after toppling the tyrant, he declared.

Brown's visit to British troops in Basra in October when he announced that 1,000 soldiers should be home for Christmas, backfired, being branded at home as an inappropriate photo opportunity exploiting 'the boys on the frontline' and a cheap shot to upstage the Conservative Party annual conference on the day when shadow chancellor George Osborne was making a vote winning tax-cuts promise. Also, 30% of the troops under discussion had already returned home as part of a long term strategy announced under Blair.

The afternoon a Blair years-style 'Stop the War' demonstration poured down Whitehall towards Parliament, a besieged Brown told the Commons that British troops in Iraq would be halved to 2,500 by next year.

Brown was accused of ignoring comments made by Bob Ainsworth the Armed Forces Minister to the Commons defence committee in the summer that forces in Iraq could not go below the present level of 5,000 troops while about 20,000 armed insurgents roamed through and around Basra. …

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