Michael Brown: Who wants to be an American poodle these days?

Many Tory MPs are anxious about our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan

Share

At first sight, the recent comments from the Tory shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, about the conflict involving Israel, Lebanon and Hizbollah seem fairly unremarkable. He sympathises with the plight of Israel over the terrorist attacks to which it has been subjected, and notes that it can hardly be expected to end its offensive at this stage "unless captured soldiers are returned, rocket attacks ended and some hope provided that Lebanon's future will be different from its past''.

Yet there has been a clear suggestion from Mr Hague during the past few days that Conservative foreign policy under David Cameron may be undergoing as great a counterintuitive transformation as has taken place in the party's domestic policies. One would normally have expected the Tories to have given the same wholehearted support to the American position as that of Tony Blair. After all, Mr Hague's personal friendship with George Bush predates that of the Prime Minister.

Back in the late 1990s, when Mr Hague was Tory leader, he met Mr Bush at the governor's mansion, when the latter was governor of Texas. It was here that Mr Hague learned about Mr Bush's "kitchen table conservatism''. The two right-wingers were seen as inseparable soul mates by the time of the November 2000 US presidential election. Mr Hague was even taking personal phone calls from Mr Bush during the hiatus between polling day and the eventual declaration by the Supreme Court that Mr Bush had triumphed over Al Gore.

Mr Hague's successor, Iain Duncan Smith, continued to enjoy a similar rapport with many members of Mr Bush's new administration, and although the Blair/Bush friendship was developing fast, there was still a ready invitation for IDS to all the Republican think-tanks and to the Pentagon. Relations froze during Michael Howard's tenure after the Tory leader made it clear that he would not automatically underwrite every dot and comma of the Blair/Bush approach to the aftermath of the Iraq conflict. For a time, the Tories were personae non gratae in Washington. All that has now changed with the return of Mr Hague to the Tory frontline.

But Mr Hague has made it clear, at least by implication, that the Tories will be no poodles when it comes to endorsing US policy on the current crisis in the Middle East. Indeed there is every suggestion that he intends, permanently, to underline his view that British foreign policy "may often be linked to that of the United States but it does not have to be identical to it''.

These may seem innocuous words but they are of huge significance - simply because it is Mr Hague uttering them. And his comments that Israel's action has been "disproportionate'' suggest a new Conservative approach to foreign affairs that may amount to a serious revision of the party's definition of the "special relationship'' with America.

During the Thatcher years the Tories were more favourably inclined towards Israel than at any previous time in their history. Mrs Thatcher would give red carpet welcomes to Israeli politicians, and MPs would regularly find sympathy from her when they accused the Foreign Office of being institutionally pro-Arab. But Israel struggles today to find the same instinctive support it received from the previous generation of Tory politicians.

There is also growing evidence that many Tory MPs are becoming extremely anxious about Britain's open-ended engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. David Cameron, currently on a visit to Afghanistan, will be seeing for himself the extent to which our troops are overstretched, while there is growing opposition to their mission back home. Although he publicly supports British troops, his frontbench colleagues have expressed grave concerns about their numbers and equipment. They mask an implicit criticism that we should probably not be in either country at all. And this, in turn, implies another hint that the Tories would have refused America's request to send troops to Helmand province.

It would be wrong to suggest that Tories are framing a foreign policy to suit the desires of a crude public opinion which is almost universally hostile to the Bush administration. But the accidental broadcast of Mr Blair's subservient, almost childish discussion with the President at the G8 summit last week will reinforce the British electorate's demand for a reassessment of the "special relationship". Mr Hague may have been punished by the voters for his supposed anti-European policies in the 2001 election but it could just be that his public candour towards America's foreign policy will be more appreciated by voters next time.

mrbrown@talktalk.net

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£22000 - £25900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is expanding and th...

Recruitment Genius: Corporate Account Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Corporate Account Manager is ...

Recruitment Genius: Chef de Partie

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This award winning conference venues provider...

Recruitment Genius: Admin Assistant

£12000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding Insurance Brokerag...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Hollywood: Stop trying to make Superman cool. The world needs a boy scout in blue

Matthew James
A man enjoys the  

If you really want to legalise cannabis, then why on earth would you go and get high in a park?

Peter Reynolds
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders