A collaborative blog for Current Affairs and Policy Debate

Foreign Affairs Debate – predictions

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 at 10:07 pm

By Stephen Wan

With a high rise in the polls for the Liberal Democrats, and a higher approval rating than Brown and Cameron put together, Nick Clegg has the most pressure, and the most to lose, in tonight’s foreign affairs debate shown on Sky News at 8pm (if you don’t have Sky, the Guardian is streaming the debate live on their website). But how much impact will this debate have in comparison to last week’s one? Relatively little I think – firstly, foreign affairs doesn’t register highly in the public’s top issues, with the economy, immigration, employment, education, health etc. (all but the first of which were covered last week). It therefore doesn’t matter so much if Clegg does lose this one – foreign affairs are unlikely to dominate this election anyway. Secondly, the number of people watching this debate will almost definitely be lower than the 9.8 peak viewer level of the first one; there aren’t as many people who have Sky News, myself included, and some people I’ve talked to are turned off watching it because of how boring the last one was. Perhaps the first election debate had a novelty factor, but the second one does not. Still, nothing should be taken for granted, and given a fairly high level of public interest in these leaders debates now, there’s still a lot to play for. What will be discussed? And who, if anyone, will come out top? My guesses on what will come up tonight is Afghanistan, the role for Britain in international affairs, the future Defence Review, Trident, Europe and the EU, our ‘special relationship’ with America and possibly dealing with rising superpowers such as China and our relationship with them. Iraq, though important a few years ago, has mostly been eclipsed in the media. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something on international climate change agreement as well. Brown, as the Prime Minister for the past couple of years, is an international figure – he’s been said to be more popular overseas than here in his own country. He was responsible for the applauded for the G20 summit, continues to have strong ties with America, strongly pushes for a continued presence in Afghanistan, wants a strong trading relationship with China, wants to renew Trident, and is neither anti-Europe (Lisbon treaty) or particularly pro-Europe (no Euro). Out of all three of them, Brown is easily the most experienced in international affairs; he knows the game, and he’s known by the leaders of the countries very well. If he pushes the influence he’s had over the global financial stimulus, and his strong reputation abroad, he could well win it. His weakness will be on Iraq (although again this isn’t a prevailing issue), his handling and funding of Afghanistan (helicopters is a word I’m expecting to hear quite a lot), and denying Britain the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which will probably be the most damaging. Cameron, as leader of the Opposition, is never going to match up to the credentials of Brown, although I can’t think of a less experienced Conservative leader hoping to become Prime Minister since WW2. He likes lots of alliances, so keeping with the US, but not too much political intergration, so no to EU influence. Wants to keep Trident, although apparently to protect against rogue states like China, so no strong relationship with them. Promised a referendum on the EU if they got into power, but had to backtrack from that after the Lisbon Treaty was ratified. Angry about the lack of funding to our troops in Afghanistan, wants to introduce a government pledge to look after our troops – a military covenent. Took the Conservatives out of the pro-European grouping in the European Parliament, into a anti-federalist group with arguable far-right nationalist parties. Cameron I think is weakest here, with both a lack of experience and seemingly a lack of tact (calling China a nuclear threat for example). If he wants to win, he’ll need to appeal strongly to the eurosceptic part of the country, constantly attacking Brown and Clegg for handing, or wanting to hand, powers over to Brussels. He can also push against Brown on funding for our troops, and our patriotic duty to look after them. Clegg is again the wildcard here, because nobody’s quite sure what he stands for. He seems less keen on the US, and wants stronger ties with the EU. International agreement on Climate Change is a big priority, and is more anti-Afghanistan than the other two. Voted against Iraq with the Lib Dems in 2003, so maybe a couple of brownie points there. Wants to include Trident in the Defence Review, so he doesn’t want to renew Trident, preferring some other alternative system. No idea what he thinks the UK’s role in the future is though – he’s never really had to talk about it. Definitely weak on being recognised on the international stage – at least Obama stopped by Cameron for a quick chat. Being pro-EU more steadfastly than the others may repel some people, but may bring others around to him. Any attack by Cameron on Clegg wanting to join the euro will definitely deflect off – Clegg can simply deny that, because they don’t. Weakness may well be on Trident, since the majority of polls shows we support having a nuclear deterrent; however, if he can get the argument across that the cost is too great, and we can have a cheaper alternative, that may do it. Overall, I think Brown to win, and Clegg a close second, with Cameron last. However, don’t think I’m willing to put money on it. Really, this debate is a slight misnomer, because a government’s stance in foreign affairs is primarily pragmatic, particularly for Britain, than it is ideological. In a sense then, a lot of what is said in these debates is meaningless, because it is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office that pushes the agenda on the international scene. Still, should be a good watch.


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