The press was summoned early one recent morning to Chatham House, Britain’s leading foreign affairs think tank, to hear the thoughts of Conservative leader David Cameron on Britain’s national security. As Cameron is likely to become prime minister later this spring, attendance was high.
Anyone in the audience who, like me, thought they would hear a talk about his grand strategy for how to deal with threats to Britain’s national security in these extremely insecure times was disappointed. Cameron, bright and confident, spent most of his brief remarks outlining how he intended to change the internal decision making of government on national security issues rather than outlining a new approach to Iran or China.
The strategic decisions made by the Labour government — e.g. joining the U.S. in invading Afghanistan and Iraq — weren’t questioned … it was how they were arrived at that provoked Cameron’s criticism. The cabinet had been sidelined, he said. “Sofa government,” the prime minister’s unelected friends and advisors sitting comfortably on couches at Downing Street and deciding policy had replaced collective decision-making around the cabinet table. This would stop once he was prime minister, said Cameron. There would be a return to the traditions that had stood Britain in good stead. To facilitate cooperation among the various government departments he would form a “National Security Council.”
The lack of a grand vision from the prime minister-in-waiting demonstrates the degree of convergence between the country’s main political parties when it comes to security issues. On the major international crises of the last dozen years of Labour government it is hard to imagine that a Conservative government would have reacted differently.