Ben Brogan has a superb piece in today’s Daily Expenses, in which he makes the case that Britain’s stature on the world stage may gently slip away if the Conservatives (and others) continue their relaxed approach to hard power issues.
The article also includes the fascinating information that David Cameron was consulted on, and even got to nominate the political representative for, Gordon Brown’s Iraq war inquiry.
This interesting in its own right, and fairly surprising for those of us who have been following Cameron’s repeated attacks on the PM over the inquiry. But it also shines a starker light on the Government’s poor decision making on this issue, as over so many others.
The history of the Iraq inquiry can broadly be summarised in the following way:
1. A symbolic announcement, chosen for its perceived political popularity
2. Concerted criticism from all sides about the content of the announcement (in this case, the behind-closed-doors nature of the original inquiry terms)
3. The rapid realisation by everyone outside No 10 that the Government is firmly on the wrong side of the argument
4. The vainglorious attempt by numerous ministers and Government spokespeople, clearly against their own will, to defend the original decision, while using up huge amounts of political capital and taking a great deal of flak
5. A sudden U-turn, finally putting the Government on the right side of the issue after it is far, far too late.
This cycle of poor and avoidable decision making is, of course, not limited to the terms of the Iraq war inquiry. Just this week we’ve had similar U-turns on post office privatisation and ID cards, after the Government (and inwardly cringing Ministers) had expended masses of political capital and time defending their original and untenable positions.
These join a growing list including, but not limited to the Gurkhas, the 10p tax rate, publication of MPs expenses, and of course the political backtracking over ‘the election that never was’ and the ‘Ed Balls for Chancellor’ briefings.
Now, I’m not averse to the odd U-turn. It is a good thing that No 10 finally comes to the right decision, even if they arrive at it late. But do they really, always, have to make such a pig’s ear of getting there?
Doing the right thing when it’s politically unpopular and causes you to lose friends is hard enough, but this Government has a habit of doing the right, and politically popular, thing while still alienating everyone because of how they go about it. David Cameron must sometimes look at this repeated strategic ineptitude and wonder if he is dreaming.