David Blackburn

Hague is an administrative revolutionary, not the second Canning

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For a man of such rhetorical talents, William Hague’s foreign policy speech was strikingly bland. His eloquence escaped him and he sounded like David Miliband - earnest, conscientious and often unintelligible. The similarity didn't end there. Hague was very pleased with his observation that a multi-lateral world requires bi-lateral relationships; but even David Miliband had grasped that – who could forget his stable shin-dig in India?

Hague’s speech was dominated by the expression ‘network world’ and he said that Britain’s diplomacy must address new strategic needs. In fact, Hague said very little that was new. Britain’s relationship with America would remain close; European alliances would rest on co-operation not coercion; new bi-literal or ‘network’ relations should be built or old ones, like the commonwealth, must be re-invigorated; aid is expression of British citizens’ generosity and is the agent of a ‘values based’ approach to the developing world; finally, security concerns will be addressed by the strategic defence review - strategic failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and fiscal restraint will limit liberal intervention in the immediate future, but that is born of necessity not choice.

 

That, essentially, is it. It strikes me as considered continuity, not the ‘new foreign policy’ discerned by some commentators. The body of the speech was devoted to the coalition’s administrative reforms – the renewal of the FCO, the MoD, DfID and the FCO’s unity of purpose, the creation of a National Security Council. Britain’s foreign policy has not altered; its execution will change enormously.