James Forsyth

Cameron’s fine, liberal speech

Cameron's fine, liberal speech
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David Cameron’s speech in Kuwait today did not take on his hosts in the way that Harold Macmillan’s ‘winds of change’ speech did. But it was a still fine, liberal speech.

The key argument of the speech was that:

”As recent events have confirmed, denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability, rather the reverse. Our interests lie in upholding our values – in insisting on the right to peaceful protest, in freedom of speech and the internet, in freedom of assembly and the rule of law. But these are not just our values, but the entitlement of people everywhere; of people in Tahrir Square as much as Trafalgar Square.”

This is the crucial point: crude realism is not realistic. If Britain, and the West more broadly, chooses to put itself on the side of autocratic — or as Cameron euphemistically called them ‘highly controlling regimes’ — it is just storing up worse problems for another day.

Cameron is also right to stress that liberal reform in the Arab world is both our business and in our best interests because it is “a key part of the antidote to the extremism that threatens the security of us all.”

Overall, Cameron hit all the right notes today. But actions speak louder than words. One thing the Prime Minister should be looking at is ways to stop regimes ‘turning the internet off’. Also if the Libyans are going to use aircraft against their own people then a coalition of the willing should — with or without UN authority — be prepared to warn the Libyans that any such planes might be shot down. That threat should be enough to make most pilots think that flying to Malta is the better option.