Foreign Secretary William Hague’s trip to the US set the right tone by calling the UK-US link “an unbreakable alliance”. If he now goes on to places where the “economic action” is, to use the words of his opening speech to FCO staff, places like India and Brazil, he will be able to show the “distinctive” foreign policy he wants. I have high hopes too for his deputies David Lidington and Jeremy Browne – two smart politicians with experience in the world of diplomacy, the former as an aide to Douglas Hurd and the latter at the feet of his diplomat father, Sir Nicholas Browne.
Relations with Europe will be tricky. But rather than being met with derision, as many Labour politicians expected – indeed almost hoped for – the new British government has been embraced by the likes of Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel. Eurosceptics will be displeased with the government; but it is now more likely than ever that the UK will follow an EU policy of sceptical pragmatism – the only sensible option.
And if 1997 saw the Foreign Office loose its mojo, while DfID grew in stature; the Cameron-Clegg government will re-invest in the Foreign Office. Links between William Hague and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell are good and should ensure that the relationship between FCO and DfID is strong and productive. To help it on its way, the Prime Minister ought to make an early visit to DfID’s office on Palace Street with the Foreign Secretary as well as the Defence Secretary to show that all three departments have to work together – and that the development agenda remains key to the government.
As many commentators have predicted, the coalition may not last, it may crumble before its five-year term is up, but for now I remain positive and hopeful.