Leading Article: John doesn't need another Douglas

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The Independent Online
The consequences of Douglas Hurd's resignation as Foreign Secretary are already coming home to roost. Whatever else was going wrong with the Government, one could rely upon Douglas to sort things out. Mr Hurd's departure means the Prime Minister is indulging in two bets at the same time. Not so much a gamble as a totaliser. He is gambling not just with the party leadership, but also with British foreign policy: that it is worth diminishing his government's authority by allowing Mr Hurd to go if that brings him an easier time with the Euro-sceptic right.

That short-term calculation is precisely the wrong way to choose who should become Foreign Secretary in the run-up to the Inter-Governmental Conference on European integration, which will make critical decisions on the extension of the community eastwards, the range of policies to be covered by qualified majority voting, and the timetable for further convergence of economic policy-making.

It is tempting to look for another Douglas, a patrician technocrat born to serve and lead. Foreign policy has been in similar hands virtually since the early Eighties - Pym, Carrington, Howe and then Hurd, with a brief Major interlude. The great drawback of the approach Hurd personifies is that it does not engage in a wider public debate about policy priorities. His message is: leave it to me, I'll sort it out for you. That will not do when the future of Britain's relations with Europe are so vital.

So the case for a more populist approach to policy-making, if not policy itself, is considerable. This is the one merit of the position adopted by the right of the Tory party. Its belief in the people having a say in the questions of constitutional significance raised by our membership of the EU is likely to win out eventually. The trouble is that along with this populist style of policy-making comes straight- forward populism. Casting Europe in the guise of federalist bogeyman is not a policy; it is a form of escapism.

The prospect of Mr Major retaining power but at the price of doing a deal with a Foreign Secretary drawn from the right of the party is alarming. The mess over Europe within the Tory party at large would be enshrined at the top of the Government. Mr Major's government would be founded on the division over Europe, not an attempt to overcome it.

The other potential candidates for the leadership would have pretty clear views on Europe - Portillo and Redwood from the right, Heseltine from the left. A foreign secretary under any of them as premier would take the lead from the top. Not so with Mr Major, apparently. The Prime Minister's views on Europe - witness his outburst to constituency party chairmen on Saturday - are becoming less clear and reliable by the day. If he does not clarify very soon who he would like as Foreign Secretary, running what sort of foreign policy, the Tory party would be right to pass over him and go for a straight contest between contenders from right and left. At least then it would be presented with a clear choice rather than yet more Majoresque fudging and mudging.