David Cameron's statements about Pakistan's export of terrorism were more a diplomatic tremor than an earthquake but it was the clearest indication yet that the new Government would take provocative stances on international issues.
Pakistan's High Commissioner in London said he hoped the comments were a "slip of the tongue," while David Miliband accused Mr Cameron of being a "loudmouth" who should think "through carefully what he is going to say".
Those familiar with how the coalition, or more accurately Tory, foreign policy is being developed know that this was no "slip of the tongue" but carefully thought out. It followed Mr Cameron's description of Gaza as a prison camp, which caused consternation in Israel and amongst her supporters in Britain. These were not random, but chosen paths the Cameron Government has taken.
Whereas under Tony Blair policy was decided by a group of advisers with successive foreign secretaries sidelined, William Hague is a full architectural partner in building the current one. The expectation was that because of Mr Hague's seniority the Foreign Office would gain power. This has happened to an extent, at the expense of DFID, but only so far, mainly because Hague is part of the No 10 set up.
While in opposition the Tories had been dismissive of Labour's foreign policy. The then government's only effective foreign secretary, they would say, was Robin Cook, a man they saw as a formidable adversary. Since his departure, the thinking went at Conservative Central Office, there was little sense of coherence or strategy.
The direction of the new Government's foreign policy has been stated by Cameron and Hague – a more circumspect approach to the US after Blair's adoration of George W Bush; building relations with the emerging powerhouses of China, India, Brazil and Russia; and engaging with new EU members. It was made clear that Afghanistan was an inherited and messy war and extraction should take place as soon as possible.
What Cameron has done so far has not diverted from this script. India was always going to be wooed – the only time the phrase "special relationship" was mentioned in the Tory manifesto was in relation to India and not the US. But was there the need to be so forthright about Pakistan? Many senior Conservatives have been of the view that the millions of dollars poured into the country have done nothing to stop the country's secret police, ISI and elements of the military giving support to the Taliban, and the time had come to cut their losses.
The choice of Delhi to make the remarks is a reflection of this and, say Tory officials, details of Pakistani double-dealing revealed in Wikileaks made this easier.
The venue was also important in the context of "Gaza prison". It was said to a largely Muslim audience in Ankara and Turkey is another country in the Cameron outreach programme.
His description of Britain as the "junior partner" in the relationship with the US may have led to criticism at home, but is seen as nothing more than the acknowledgement of a fact by the international community. He was firm in rejecting myriad American demands, such as for an inquiry into BP's alleged role in the release of al-Megrahi.
Thus Cameron has started his foreign policy journey with a series of very deliberate steps. Where it takes him remains to be seen, but he is determined to break with the legacy of New Labour.Reuse content