The Warsi Resignation and U.K. Foreign Policy
The Economist‘s Blighty blog comments on Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation from the Cabinet over the British government’s position on the Gaza conflict. The author compares the current debate in the U.K. to divisions while Blair was in office:
But Lady Warsi’s departure is about more than just squabbles in the Conservative Party. Doubtless, these had not left her well-disposed to the prime minister, but there is nothing to suggest that her immediate reasons for resigning were other than those given in her letter: “our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.” She reiterated these points in an interview with Mehdi Hasan of the Huffington Post.
Though relatively little of the reaction to Lady Warsi’s decision has concerned this aspect, it is significant. The language—and subject—recall the years of Tony Blair’s leadership, and specifically his role in the Iraq War and his outspoken support for Israel in its 2006 war with Lebanon. Not since that era has British politics been so divided over global affairs (the EU being more a domestic concern than a foreign one, and differences between the two main parties over Syria last year having been more marginal than many realise).
The resignation is another instance of Cameron’s more or less reliably hawkish foreign policy blowing up in his face as it also did last fall, but there are two notable differences between this episode and Parliament’s rejection of British intervention in Syria last year. The first is that Cameron’s policy is being trashed in public by a longstanding political ally and member of the Cabinet, while opposition to war in Syria among Tories came from the party’s backbenchers. Both episodes were embarrassments for Cameron, but this one appears to have more potential to do political harm to the Conservatives’ general election chances next year. Oddly enough, Cameron’s foiled attempt to take Britain into another unnecessary war last year may prove to be less damaging to his government than Britain’s modestly “pro-Israel” position on Gaza. In any case, these divisions over foreign policy are likely to keep cropping up as long as the British government keeps pursuing a foreign policy that is far more hawkish than most people in Britain want.