Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia: Where is the British Government?

If I criticised the relative silence of Messers Brown and Miliband on events in Georgia, you might well think I was taking a partisan stance. So let me hand over commentary to the left. First, the New Statesman's Martin Bright...
The speed with which the French president has reacted to events in Georgia is impressive. New Labour has always had a blind-spot for foreign affairs (its main players speak no foreign languages and have little knowledge of, or interest in, "abroad").

It is deeply embarrassing that Sarkozy has spoken to Merkel, Berlusconi and "colleagues of Mr Brown". What is going on? David Miliband issued a statement on Monday condemning Russia's actions, but he is hardly striding the international stage. No surprise, perhaps, considering the fury that greeted his Guardian article on the future of the Labour government last week.

But if Brown is not allowing Miliband to show his mettle (he was impressive in his swift condemnation of Russian aggression when he took over as Foreign Secretary last year) then why is Brown not doing something himself. Is he afraid that any move he makes will be interpreted as an attempt to distract from his domestic woes? Whatever the reasons, we are left with a government utterly paralysed by its own internal problems when it should be acting to assert Britain's position in this most dangerous of situations.

And if that's not enough for you, here's my old sparring partner Mary Dejevsky on the Indy's Open House blog...
It's a strange thing, isn't it? One week your foreign secretary is all over the media discussing everything under the sun – even grinning cheekily when collared by a television reporter - and the next week, when a full-blown international crisis erupts, he has vanished from the global map...

The closest we came to a sighting was word from Mr Murphy on Newsnight that he "and David Miliband" would be attending a Nato ministerial meeting on Wednesday (i.e. tomorrow). The word is that Mr Miliband is holidaying on one or other of Spain's Balearic islands. Now everyone deserves a holiday, but when a foreign crisis of this order blow up, the foreign secretary is the minister you most expect to hear from.

Can it be that, with his sights set on higher things, he has already "moved on" - as Blairspeak might have it - from his foreign affairs portfolio?

Ouch. And following it all up with a brilliant post is Iain Martin on Three Line Whip. He says...
It is inconceivable that under Blair, Major or Thatcher particularly, 24 hours would have passed without them appearing on television to condemn this and stake out HMG's position so that it was clearly understood by the British public, the Russians and a global audience.

Thatcher would have summoned a TV crew and made a robust, but not inflammatory, statement urging the relevant multilateral organisations to take this seriously and commence talks on finding a resolution straight away. The impact would have been positive all round.

But now we seem bedeviled by an assumption in the FCO that much of this is the kind of business we can farm out happily to the EU and whoever happens to have the Presidency. Perhaps we had better get used to much more of this in life after Lisbon.

Contrast all that with David Cameron's clear exposition of the Conservative position. Just because the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary were on holdiday does not mean that government stops. They should have learnt from history that in August shit happens. The First World War broke out. The Soviet coup took place. Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Perhaps if Harriet Harman had been minding the shop we might have been served better. What did you say? She was? Ah, that explains it.


Newmania said...

Brilliant Iain , you have still got it when you put your back into it.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has a go at Brown for not going on holiday. Then they have a go at Miliband for taking a holiday. It seems they have both been working the phones, and Miliband is going to Paris tomorrow to meet the other EU Ministers. So what's the problem? We're not going to send troops, and if the Ruskies decide to be mean there's not much we or anyone else can do that would come close to stopping them.

Anonymous said...

Be honest. If you were the Georgian President, would YOU want to be seen any where near McBean? Everything he touches turns to s**t.

Anyway, Britain is a minor player in the world. We're the rent boys of the Americans when they need us, but around the world the French have a higher standing.

Yet another soldier has died in Afghansistan for nothing. How many French solderers have died "defending freedom?"

It's joke.

Dave said...

You're good on the domestic, but rubbish on the foreign (As are most on left, incidentally). Britain currently has no influence with the Russians, due to the whole Litvenenko affair. Also, Britain is too close to the USA at the moment. The best thing Britain can do to solve the conflict is to defer to the French, and allow them to mediate. There is no point in making barn stomping Thatcherite speeches that will do no good, and merely damage our relations with Russia even further (you're the oil junky, you can figure out why). Britain is not the major power it was, and Tories can't seem the grasp this concept.

Anonymous said...

He probably thought Georgia was in America and Bush would deal with it!

Well he's not the brightest....

Helen said...

The French do not have a higher standing in the world. Sarkozy was doing his shuttle service because France holds the EU presidency. Duh! We do not have a foreign policy as we have accepted that the EU speaks for us. Mind you, the Balts and the East Europeans have not accepted it. I suspect Blair would have been in Moscow and Tbilisi on day one. Not achieving much but then nobody except Mr Putin has achieved much so far, but there.

the orange party said...

Oh dear, please catch up.

The reason why Brown and Miliband were silent was because they were party to Blair's meeting with the Georgian president in London last year.

That meeting raises some very awkward questions about the UK's involvement in Georgia and Blair's motives.

As I revealed here:


Anonymous said...

Dear God, why do we need to hear from the British Government? This situation has little/nothing to do with us. Where are the real conservatives, who haven't fallen for the messianic delusions of the Neo-Con International?

Anonymous said...

I thought the boy Milliband couldn't be reached because he is at scout camp.
Seriously, I am old enough to remember lying awake at night during Cold War threats; I am therefore of the generation most likely to vote. Do you think we'd want a flippant boy like Milliband advising Brown about the use of our nuclear deterrent?

Anonymous said...

Bearing in mind the "no show" of the Govt on the MPs' expenses vote, and now this, "Where's the (British) Government?" could become quite a good catch-all slogan. The answer of course is up the creek without a paddle.

I think you'll find Harriet H has done her week and that maybe it's now Alistair Darling. What a lot of credibiity he would have condemning this. Amazingly he apparently might be the next Foreign Sec! Tells you something that that great office is considered a suitable receptacle for failed Chancellors.

Anonymous said...

Probably better they don't get involved. Looking at their incompedent handling of the 'stamp duty holiday' fiasco , we would be at full scale war with Russia by now.

Anonymous said...

Georgia started this whole thing - would the West be so interested if it were not for the oil pipes involved?

Come on ...

McCain had the nerve to speak for 'ALL' Americans when he said 'we are all Georgians today'.
NO. We are NOT all Georgians today and McCain does not have a mandate to speak for ALL Americans. McCain seems far too happy to start another cold war. We don't need more war mongers at a time like this.

Calm down world - and listen to both sides. Yes, Russia over reacted but Georgia can blame their President/government for their current problems.

Go Obama.

Also, Who really honestly truly genuinely cares what Gordon Brown has to say? Not many people.

Anonymous said...

Clear position, the Tories? What exactly did, 'Little Willie Hague' say?

Anonymous said...

The world has enough problems without nulab being unleashed upon it.

Anonymous said...


Even worse, it seems that Brown has now spoken out, demanding restraint from Russia, but only AFTER Russia and Georgia have agreed to an EU initiative.

Does he think the British public are stupid and will somehow give him some of the credit for the ceasefire? Taking us for fools again.


Anonymous said...

Dave and Helen have hit the nail on the head. Russia won't listen to us, and France holds the EU Presidency - so we've left it to them.
This does highlight one of the issues with the rotating EU Presidency - with all respect to, say, the Slovenian head of state, I doubt they would have got the same access to Moscow if this had happened under their watch.

Anonymous said...

Milliband on Today at 8.10 now seems to have reappeared, and gave a competent interview.

Amazing what a late night post from you can do, Iain.

AndNowInStereo said...

To comment on Martin Bright's first paragraph, I'm not certain that Sarkozy is bilingual either. I had read he could only speak French, in contrast to Jacques Chirac who had fluent English and Tony Blair who also had fluent French.

Monolingualism is no reason to ignore "abroad". The Left can talk such rubbish sometimes when they feel a need to fit someone to a stereotype.

JH said...

I'm with newmania, super to see the chunky Dale posts are back!

Anonymous said...

Foreign secretary is a non job under New Labour. They believe that the EU is now in charge of our foreign affairs. At least we now know that Milibland is NOT Prime Minister material.

Anonymous said...

Dear Iain

This is another Area of the World that I struggle to understand


I thought I heard a suggestion from somewhere that it was the GEORGIANS who initiated this Crisis by sending in their tanks, artillery and machine gunners against the THE CIVILIAN POPULATION of South Ossetia

How does this affect your Views of Russia's reaction ?

Jonny Mac said...

As londoner says, lovely to hear the boy wonder Call Me Dave 2 on the Today programme this morning. Statesman, sober, serious, that was the message. And did I hear him call Gordon's leadership "vigorous", or was that just a dreadful dream?

strapworld said...


As already said, quite brilliant!

Brown was in his bunker biting his nails, afraid of saying anything!

Maggie would have been demanding action.

The Russians, in this country, who support Putin such as the Chelsea Owner, should be shown the door!

We should re-open our coal mines (me supporting Scargill!!!) and prepare to make coal gas again until we can get the atomic power stations built! We cannot allow ourselves to be held hostage by that dictator in Russia.

Expel them from G8. They have got far more to lose from this than we IF we get our act together.

But, with Brown in charge we have no chance.

strapworld said...

dave said. 11.54am.

They said all that when Wilson then Callaghan were in charge!!

Learn from history that the Tories put pride with a capital P back into this country!

Letters From A Tory said...

Like I've said a million times, Miliband is a spineless little turd who has been a disastrous foreign secretary.

His list of woefully inadequate responses to international crises now includes Burman, Kenya, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Russia etc.

Anonymous said...

I think it's because the Georgian flag is too much like the English flag. We know what New Labour thinks of the English don't we?.

Anonymous said...

What gets me about this constant bleating about the Government is the complete lack of any action by Joe Public who clearly have their collective heads shoved up their collective @rses and are only concerned about the rising price of an alco-pop. The only people who seem to give a toss are bloggers ie armchair type-writer warriors. When was the last time any of you took to the streets and demonstrated outside No10? We need to be a bit more in McBroon's face. Some well reported public humiliation might actually do some good rather than weasely words on McDale.com!

Anonymous said...

Brown has signed away our separate Foreign Policy - so why the suprise when he stays quiet?

Miliband goes to the EU meeting to be told what to say.

Roger Thornhill said...

"and Miliband is going to Paris tomorrow to meet the other EU Ministers."

Yes, to ask "permission to speak, sir?"

Anonymous said...

I'm not very pleased about Cameron's statement. I think he was badly advised to jump in so quickly to condemn Russia when its plain that Georgian troops marching into South Osettia with all guns blazing was what started the conflagration. The news on France24, CNN, Russia TV and Al Jazeera gives a much more balanced view of what's happening than the simplistic them and us response from the US and the UK. And the presence of newly issued flags to the populace in Tiblisi points to a Berezovsky involvement.

Anonymous said...

I'm not very pleased with David Cameron's statement either. I think Cameron has handled this situation rather badly with his unbalanced and unfair statements.

Cameron is quick to make Russia 'the enemy' when the Georgian government were clearly in the wrong. Both sides will suffer greatly because of Georgia's attack on the people of South Ossetia.

Firstly, shame on Georgia and then shame on Russia. And then shame on David Cameron for his misguided Bush/McCain style views. Like we need another cold war?

Cameron is showing signs of political 'double standards'.

Anonymous said...

"On Monday, Obama told the Russians "There is no possible justification for these attacks." At the same time, however, he said "Georgia should refrain from using force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and a political settlement must be reached that addresses the status of these disputed regions." That was a clear acknowledgment that Georgia, too, needed to change course."

Perhaps David Cameron should have made that early morning call to Barack Obama instead of John McCain? Maybe then Cameron wouldn't have sounded like such a Bush neo-con. Not very 21st century, Dave.

Cameron needs to get a grip.

Regarding Gordon Brown, he can doesn't need to worry about foreign affairs. David Miliband is dealing with it.

I'm sure most people were sitting on the edge of their chair waiting to hear the wise words of Gordon Brown ?? NOT.

Yak40 said...

I'm still waiting for Galloway, rent-a-crowd, ANSWER et al to call out the faithful for another 500,000+ people march on Whitehall demanding peace.

Then I remember it's the Red Army that's involved so of course they will instead try and blame everything on the West.


Yak40 said...

canvas again says "Go Obama."

Agreed, go back whence he came.

He called for a UN SC resolution, that's the ticket, something the Russians can veto.

NObama 2008 or ever.

Anonymous said...

David Cameron's belligerent statement about Russia could easily complicate things. Good thing he's not yet PM.

Anonymous said...

David Cameron = hypocrisy?

" David Cameron had called for a common European response to Russia but rejected mechanisms to put that into effect. “He opposes the Lisbon treaty which provides for a single EU voice on foreign policy.”

Anonymous said...

I write as one who has worked in the former Soviet Union for the past 15 years on various development aid projects; most recently I have been working in Georgia.

Russia had a window of hope after the ruble crash in 1998 - after the initial high hopes for Putin, he has utterly squandered the prospect of a democratic growth economy for cheap nationalism and kleptocracy. The Georgian government has been foolishly oversanguine, but they were needled into their behaviour by consistent and deliberate Russian provocation over the past two years particularly, supporting the 'separatist' movements in Abkhazia and S. Ossetia. The use of the word 'genocide' by Medvedev to justify Russian invasion of Georgian territory is particularly offensive - yet another debasement of the political language.

However stupid Georgia has been in walking into the trap deliberately laid by Russia, the reaction of the Western democracies, who seem to be looking in purpose in an opposite direction, is shameful. And don't anyone take the line that Blair would have done better - he was the one who said in the early days that Putin was the sort of guy one could do business with, grotesquely underrating him from the start.

Georgia is a beautiful country with a unique history and culture. Russia is determined to dismember it, to assert its prowess and enable it to show two fingers to the West. It is clear that - while oil prices remain high - no one is going to stop it doing so. If the West had the guts, it would have admitted Georgia to NATO - it failed, and Russia drew the right conclusions.

Yak40 said...

“He opposes the Lisbon treaty which provides for a single EU voice on foreign policy.”

Good, GB is a sovereign nation and should not let itself be absorbed into the EU's maw. However it seems that every gov't since the 70s is determined to give it away.

Regarding Georgia vs Russia, neither NATO nor the EU will do anything except bleat. Europe depends upon Russian oil and gas so they'll not risk anything more than a token protest either now or when Russia takes the next step and starts on the Ukraine.

Anonymous said...

Washington Post>>>:

"McCain, Georgia and Lobbying

John McCain's strong anti-Russia comments on the Georgia situation and the fact that his top foreign policy adviser is part owner of a lobbying firm that provides strategic advice to the Georgian government in Washington have produced a surge of anti-McCain comments.

A few commenters have whacked "WaPo" for keeping the lobbying information out of the story on McCain's remarks. The lobbying connection was reported in a separate article, which our Internet readers wouldn't necessarily have seen. Both articles were packaged on page A3 or the The Washington Post's print edition. But the way articles get found on the Internet has little to do with newspaper design. Another lesson for how we in the MSM still have much to learn about the difference between internet and broadsheet presentation.

There are few defenders of McCain in the comments on these articles; many readers cite his statement on Fox News that "We've seen this movie before in Prague and Budapest" as evidence that his well-documented quick temper makes him a significant gamble for president."

Anonymous said...

Canvas said:

"Cameron needs to get a grip."

You're the one who needs to get a grip, canvas.

Haven't your heard that revenge is a dish best served cold, dear?

Hell hath no fury, eh?

Your vindictive vendetta against David Cameron is becoming so pathetically obvious and a wee bit creepy.

Anyone would think he'd sacked you.

Anonymous said...

Anon said:

"Then they have a go at Miliband for taking a holiday."

Millionaire Miliband's always on holiday.

How can you call a jaunt to Japan to make a half hour speech to 100 bloggers work?

Anonymous said...

auntie flo - the only thing that is creepy around here are your mindless comments. Have you ever had an original thought or an opinion? you stoop to personal attacks because you lack opinions.

bullies are boring.