William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, gave a speech at the Conservative Party Conference that emphasised a ‘foreign policy for the whole nation’ rooted in national identity ‘nurturing the successful habits, traditions, institutions and culture of nation.’ It was, in-keeping with conference tradition, a speech of various classic Tory values, delivered with the typical assuredness of the former party leader.
Hague ran through the most important foreign policy issues of today in a financial, diplomatic and political sense. He opened with an acknowledgment of the Olympic Games that ‘showed the world what Britain can do and what we stand for’. He followed with a survey of where British strengths lay in the world mentioning the global power of the English language, membership of NATO and ‘a bond with the United States of America’ that ‘I believe must never break’.
He reiterated the importance of Britain as a nation that fights for democracy across the world citing Britain’s friendship with emerging Burma and military assistance in Libya. On Syria he insisted that ‘We are a leader in sending aid’ and that ‘it is a serious failure of the United Nations Security Council that we cannot resolve this crisis’. This is the sad admission all know that the situation in Syria is unlikely to change and Hague certainly did not hint at any change in strategy. (See Footnote)
Tradition and the restoration of traditional modes of diplomacy was another prominent feature. The flags of Britain’s overseas territories now ‘fly in Whitehall over the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’ on the national days of Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and the other Overseas Territories. Hague reinforced the importance of history in the progression of Conservative foreign policy and that ‘There is no contradiction between forward-looking diplomacy creating new and equal partnerships around the globe and also being proud of our historical connections.’ The script was full of subtle Toryisms that flavoured the speech to the pallet of the audience.
The Foreign Secretary also made commitments to an Illegal Arms Trade Treaty and ‘launched a campaign…to act on the horror of sexual violence in conflict’. Akin to these statements Hague attempted to offer an insight into his personal responsibilities and in particular his visits to the countries affected by the Arab Spring.
In terms of mission statements or statements of policy, there were few. The number of diplomatic outposts has increased, attended by those ‘taught in a culture of excellence’ in a ‘reinvigorated diplomacy’. Trade appeared to be the focus of these new ‘reinvigorated’ outposts and it was claimed that last summer ‘we exported more outside Europe than inside Europe.’
Mr. Hague’s speech was unsurprising, well delivered and broad. Apart from his blatant Euroscepticism, he gave little away and delivered little personal opinion. The speech was an assurance of Britain’s place in the world, how it conducts itself, where it is going and who it is going with. William Hague delivers speeches with composure and regardless of his politics he must meet many people’s aspirations of who should be the face of Britain abroad. Hague had a simple message of strength and good principles but the intricacies of foreign policy are far too complicated for conference speech o’clock.
However to end, I would ponder the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to the bond with the United States ‘that should never break’. I don’t question whether it should actually break, but the political proximity of the two countries must be assessed pragmatically. This relates to a crucial foreign policy issue that was discussed by Mr. Hague – the Middle Eastern Peace Process. Mr. Hague stated Britain’s firm ‘belief in a negotiated two state solution’ and after ‘the US elections we will urge the United States to lead the international community in bringing this about with no time left to lose.’ It is true that the States hold the key to settling the crisis, but history tells us that a solution led by them that is of benefit to the Israelis and Palestinians in equal measure is not likely.
It might not be in Britain’s best interests in terms of the special relationship but a forceful, independent approach to the Middle Eastern Crisis would more than support our belief in equality and democracy so indicative of our ‘national identity’.
Footnote: One thing that appears to be off the radar of political debate is a question over the fundamental make-up of the Security Council, is it not absurd that the fate of Syria ultimately lies in the hands of five countries?