by Rob Marchant
Britain, it is perennially noted, is an island nation and often behaves accordingly.
It is a feature of modern British politics that, unlike some other countries whose very existence depends on their relations with larger, closer neighbours with whom they share a land border, foreign policy counts for little in the calculations of Westminster life. Elections are certainly not won or lost on it, mainly because polling shows that it features so low on the list of voters’ priorities.
So, a strange phenomenon occurs: since a governing party is chosen to govern based on everything but their foreign policy, one can find that, as the new tenants arrive at No. 10 and the FCO, what results in practice is a bit of a lucky dip. One can equally find the shrill nationalism of a Thatcher; the shameful isolationism of a Major; the strident interventionism of a Blair; or the “I want to, but I can’t” of a Cameron.
It’s a shame, because the world is clearly undergoing one of its most dangerously unstable periods since the cold war. Syria, Ukraine, Iraq and now Gaza underline how the West is facing two serious threats simultaneously: the rearrangement of geo-political powers into a multi-polar world, its most notable feature the re-emergence of Russia as a foe rather than a friend; and the seemingly ineradicable virus of jihadism.
Nowhere is that lucky dip truer than in today’s Labour party. If Cameron’s foreign policy has been paralysed by cuts to military resources and political support, Miliband’s has seemingly been by its lack of ambition and often, well, coherence. Dan Hodges, formerly of this parish, quoted a Miliband observer last week: “he’s got next to no interest in foreign policy”. While this is just one opinion, it is one that resonates.
Certainly, last year’s Syria vote is something best forgotten for Labour. But as an example of how disjointed is the policy of a party which could conceivably, in just over eight months, have a seat at the top table in world politics, we need look no further than its recent moves over Gaza.