David Cameron stood in front of a vast map of the world at Chatham House this morning. And in his new vision, he will be at the centre of it. The Tory leader outlined plans to set up a National Security Council, lopping bits off the MoD, Foreign Office and DfFID budgets to create a joint, “joined-up” approach that would include a “war cabinet” for Afghanistan.
There was a fair amount of policy (and he had Liam Fox, Pauline Neville-Jones and Chris Grayling lined up to boost him on that front), but there was a lot of politics, too. Of particular concern appeared to be the furniture of government:
We will end the culture of spin by making sure that decisions about national security are taken formally, not on the sofa, but round a table, and with all the right people sitting round the table.
Cameron, clearly enamoured by the table, made a series of unsubtle if timely digs at New Labour foreign policy, particularly on Iraq, after Alastair Campbell’s appearance at the Iraq inquiry this week.
If you hire responsible people, people you really trust, who want to lift politics up, not stoop down to its lowest level, then you have your best guarantee against dodgy dossiers.
Strangely mimicking the language of Sarah Palin, he also referred repeatedly to the loss of “trust” in the “system”, and promised a higher style of politics, a commitment to planning to avoid catastrophes such as the aftermath of Iraq, and a respect for the institutions of government. But his key point, about the “joined-up” approach, will be ruinous for most organisations working to promote development. As Oxfam said in a statement released shortly after the event:
Removing aid from the poorest people and using it for military goals rather than tackling poverty would be a big step backwards and would undermine the UK’s leadership role on international development.
Cameron can expect a fight from NGOs if he tries to push all the government’s development efforts into mopping up after costly wars. He promised to maintain a 0.7 per cent share of gross national income for development spending. But, as Oxfam’s response shows, if this simply means taking funds away from current development projects to support his security strategy, it will be deeply unpopular.
The Tory leader did a speed tour round his other priorities — cybersecurity, civil liberties and social cohesion. But he didn’t stick around. After responding vaguely to questions about Conservative engagement with the EU and the future of the Met (and usually deferring to Neville-Jones or Fox), Cameron departed to address the Women’s Institute in Chipping Norton. You’re late for the Women’s Institute “at your peril”, he quipped, to much mirth from the gathered suits.