David Miliband won the Foreign Affairs Debate
The first of the debates for prospective Cabinet Ministers aired yesterday on The Daily Politics. It was for the position of Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the next couple of days will see a crime debate, a chancellors debate, a business debate and an environment debate. David Miliband won the first debate for Labour due to his greater knowledge and experience of foreign affairs than the other two candidates, he was also the candidate who seemed to be attacked the least by those answering the questions.
You can also add to the debate by leaving your comment at the end of the page.
William Hague Lost
Ed Davey and David Miliband united to discredit William Hague, with both focusing on David Cameron's mistake in last Thursday's leaders debate when he stated that China might turn in the wrong direction. Davey said that a Conservative administration would not be welcomed with open arms on their first visit to China as analysts will have already picked up on David Cameron's comments and David Miliband was keen to point out that both China and the UK have signed the same nuclear treaty, which Cameron's comments went against. At one stage even Mark Urban criticised Hague and his party saying '60 years of friendship and you have tried to make it a rogue state'. Hague seemed incapable of warding off the attacks by the other members, and constant attempts to make his voice heard were in vain.
One of Hague's most attractive policies would have been the returning of certain powers to the UK government from the EU and passing the UK Sovereignty Act, but he was unable to specify any powers that his party would bring back, and his criticisms of the working time directive were shared by all three candidates. His answer was that he would wait until the Conservatives were in power so he would have access to all the right information and this made their policy seem like it lacked sufficient research and substance. It also completely contradicted his opening statement in which he pledged that Britain would seek more allies and a higher place in the world, both of which would suffer if we withdrew significantly from the EU. Again he was undermined by Mark Urban:
Urban: Can you name one party that will agree with repatriation?
Hague: We are not in government yet
Urban: Take that as a no.
This along with a few other mistakes and a lack of assertiveness meant that William Hague definitely lost the foreign affairs debate.
This seems to be mostly about style rather than substance. None of the parties, the Conservatives included are likely to change relations with China. It should be remembered that it was the conservatives who negotiated and gave back Hong Kong to China in 1997.
The slip by Cameron did not imply that he was going to suddenly change British policy towards China. It was simply prudent hedging that the UK is already doing under a Labour government. Back in 2005 John Reid, then Defence minister said "We have always maintained that so long as some other state that is a potential threat has nuclear weapons, we will retain them. That is the assumption we have at the moment and it is that assumption that we will assess against an analysis of what might be future threats... Probably more worrying, some countries have been trying to develop nuclear weapons by deceiving the world, not complying with their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, for instance in Iran. I think it would be naive to believe that there will be no further proliferation."[[Andy McSmith, Britain will keep nuclear weapons, Reid says, The Independent, 2/11/05, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britain-will-keep-nuclear-weapons-reid-says-513587.html%5D%5D This is almost exactly the same as what Cameron said except said more diplomatically by not naming anyone.
Ed Davey Lost
Ed Davey was an unknown to most before this debate which did not really help him as both Miliband and Hague were well-known figures. He sometimes struggled to get in the debate and probably said the least of the three. He made a few blunders and both he and Hague failed to capitalise on the Labours failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also constantly referred to Miliband and Hague as 'the two old parties', a comment which is not really true as his own party is much older than Labour, in order to distance himself from their policies over the last few decades but unlike Nick Clegg failed to prove himself as the only real change.
He spoiled what was initially a good point about Iraq and Afghanistan by attacking President Karzai and saying that the Liberal Democrats would go around him to initiate action and when giving aid. Of course you cannot go around the president of a country, especially when they have won the most votes in an election, a point David Miliband was keen to point out. He was criticised by Mark Urban for his 'critical support' of the war in Afghanistan, a phrase which Urban called meaningless and will have raised eyebrows when he mentioned bringing Iran round the table when discussing Afghanistan's future.
The Liberal Democrat's most popular policy in this debate will have been the scrapping of Trident. However, Davey informed the audience that Britain would still have a nuclear deterrent under the Lib Dems, it would just not be a like for like replacement of Trident. He was also tripped up by the questioner and ended up contradicting himself by saying that the Liberal Democrats would wait for the end of Obama's conference in New York on disarmament before making any decisions about our nuclear weapons, when he had only just said that we would be replacing our deterrents.
Two old parties is strictly speaking true as the Liberal Democrats were founded in 1981 with the Liberal SDP pact. The Guardian claims the Liberal party was founded in 1859,[[Alan Travis and Robert Booth, Liberal Democrats: Are they nothing to do with 'old' politics?, Guardian.co.uk, 19/4/10, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/19/reality-check-liberal-democrats%5D%5D however if you are going to take them back that far then they should simply be seen as a refounding of the Whigs and therefore had been around since the end of the 17th Century. This means that the union of the SDP and Liberals in 1981 is a much more sensible point to see as the founding of the party in its current form. Which would make them much older, but it is also a completely pointless thing to say - are these Whigs from the 17th Century going to be advocating 17th Century policy?
That you cant go around the President of a country is probably untrue in this case, there are British troups on the ground. It is not Afghanistan that controls routes into and out of the country and Karzai is probably not too bothered about aid. It is unfortunate that it is often necessary to go around the government of a nation to give aid but it is because such governments are often corrupt and going through the government means that nothing gets done at all as all the funds dissapear into deep pockets of officals and politicians. Aid is often routed through independent organisations and NGOs. Afghanistan is second from last on the corruption perceptions index 2009, so if there is a country where you need to avoid the government, it is Afghanistan.[[http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2009/cpi_2009_table]]
Miliband was not challenged enough about Iraq and Afghanistan
Miliband was questioned about numerous failures in Iraq and Afghanistan but was simply not pressured enough about the issues by his opponents or those asking the questions. This allowed him to focus on other issues where he had a lot more substance than his opponents and to have the confidence to challenge their ideas.
When asked if Every single operational request has been met he was able to quote an army chief who said that in he had 40 years never known the British army to be so well equipped and his answer was deemed satisfactory enough. William Hague criticised him for cutting the helicopter procurement project which has caused troops in Afghanistan a lot of problems but Hague instead was challenged with a question from the panel for making a political football out of Afghanistan and asking if he would be have the same views of the military ha a chance to criticise Conservative policy. Miliband also got off too lightly about the Iraq war, his statement that there 'Would have been no such decision if we knew then what we know now' seemed to satisfy the panel, when really he should have been pressured more about the intelligence that led to the war in the first place.
Miliband just did not seem to be challenged as harshly by those questioning the three candidates and was swift in his remarks when his opponents challenged him. His experience in foreign policy also helped him, as he had the knowledge and was able to back up his points with examples that the other two candidates lacked. It did not seem to go against him that he had been in government for a while like it did with Gordon Brown last Thursday.
All of these factors as well as the mistakes made by his opponents allowed him to come out of the debate on top.
What do you think?