Tom Richmond: Our foreign policy vacuum has emboldend ISIS in Syria

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DAVID CAMERON deserves some slack for his decisive response once the Government received intelligence suggesting that UK-born jihadists fighting alongside “Islamic State” fanatics in Syria.

Imagine the outcry if the Prime Minister had not authorised the drone strike which killed these terrorists – and they were then free to commit an act of mass murder against this country.

It was also right that he revealed this unprecedented action to MPs before the media, even if it meant that this took place at the same time as the PM set out his strategy for the refugee crisis. He answered questions from more than 100 backbenchers for over two hours. It is a credit to Britain’s Parliamentary system that such scrutiny takes place – not many world leaders have to face this kind of inquisition and accountability.

The Tory leader’s error was not informing Harriet Harman, the acting Opposition leader, and Hilary Benn, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, of the decision on Privy Council terms. Both deserved to have been treated with greater respect – this, after all, is a means by which national security matters can be discussed in absolute confidence.

On Britain’s wider approach to Syria, which poses as great a threat to world security as Afghanistan and Iraq combined in the Tony Blair and George W Bush era, it is clear from Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowdon’s compelling book Cameron At 10: The Inside Story that there exists a foreign policy vacuum being exploited by the tyrannical Assad regime and the medieval butchers of ISIS.

This is not entirely of Mr Cameron’s making – he came to power when a war-weary country was questioning the sacrifices made by the Armed Forces. He was constrained by the Liberal Democrats and, of course, there is still no publication for the Chilcot report into the decision-making processes prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Yet, on reading Cameron At 10, it creates the impression of a Prime Minister uncertain on what his foreign policy should be. He shows caution in 2012 when the use of chemical weapons by Assad starts to become clear, he feels he has to wait for the outcome of that November’s US election. His calls are then ignored by Barack Obama and then there is the fateful vote in which MPs decided that the case for military intervention was not sufficiently clear.

What is striking is the revelation that George Osborne had to talk William Hague out of resigning as Foreign Secretary, and the PM’s disclosure to an aide after the humiliating vote: “I am never going to take that risk again.”

However, Mr Cameron would be advised to remember this point. Foreign policy is not about image and policy presentation, it is about doing the right thing for national security. And, for that happen, the Prime Minister needs to decide upon Britain’s role in the world. The current indecision cannot continue.

EVEN though David Cameron has been accused of cronyism following the appointment of an additional 45 peers to the House of Lords, at least the country was spared the ennoblement of Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind – two former foreign secretaries tainted by the “cash for access” scandal.

As occupiers of one of the Great Offices of State, both expected peerages at the end of their Commons careers. Now they’re being denied the perks, and rightly so. Sir Malcolm could not have been more arrogant when caught on camera bemoaning a MP’s basic salary of £67,000 while Mr Straw is in limbo until the Chilcot inquiry report is published – he was Foreign Secretary when Britain invaded Iraq. Yet there’s one way to counter the abuse of patronage that has seen unelected peers reach absurd numbers. Until elections are introduced, future appointments should be limited to cross-benchers – independent-minded people who can enhance debates.

AS the Tories decide how best to respond to a political landscape that will alter dramatically if left-winger Jeremy Corbyn is elected Labour leader today, it does represent an opportunity for the Conservatives to try and rebuild support in those Northern cities where the party’s support was wiped out during Margaret Thatcher and John Major’s governments.

The lack of opposition to Labour in one-party towns like Rotherham was a significant factor in the borough’s sex grooming scandal being overlooked.

However, John Redwood, the Thatcherite former Welsh Secretary, does make an important point when he says the Northern Powerhouse agenda must focus on engineering private sector growth – and not just be about “what government can do for a city, and about who should govern a city”.

The challenge will be nurturing this “can do” approach when the councils concerned are ruled by Labour councillors and likely to become even more anti-capitalist under Corbynomics.

UNLIKE Environment Secretary Liz Truss, who has only just been awoken from her summer slumber over the scale of the crisis afflicting Britain’s dairy farmers, I’m pleased to see that Sainsbury’s is getting its act together.

Outside its Apperley Bridge store is a poster depicting “a fair price for fresh milk” and explaining how 30p for every £1 spent goes to processors and the supermarket while 70p goes to “our dedicated Sainsbury’s farmers”. I now hope that other stores follow suit.

For, given that the review being set up by Ms Truss will take months to come to fruition – when a perfectly reasonable 10-point plan has been launched by Richmond MP Rishi Sunak – it’s up to consumers to do whatever they can to support British dairy producers. And that means holding the supermarkets to account now– before some of them milk even more farmers dry.

LIKE rugby union supremo Rob Andrew, I don’t particularly rate England’s World Cup chances but I do hope that head coach Stuart Lancaster’s wild card selection, centre Henry Slade, is the star of the show.

Why? He’s a diabetic, and a powerful performance by Slade will send out a priceless message that no goal, however physical or demanding, should be beyond the reach of those who suffer from this condition.

It’s a legacy that has the potential to be as every bit as important as the host nation reigning supreme at Twickenham.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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