Change at Downing Street

Editorial May 12, 2010

NORTH WAZIRISTAN: David Cameron, Britain’s youngest prime minister since 1812 and the first Conservative to hold the top office in 13 years, has taken up residence at Downing Street. The formalities of resignation and the necessary visits to Buckingham Palace have been completed. With the ‘junior partners’ in the new coalition, the Liberal- Democrats, Cameron prepares to show what he can do for his country. His focus will, necessarily, initially fall on domestic issues. Britain’s growing burden of debt is a concern for many. But the issue of Cameron’s foreign policy is a rather tantalising one, given that he and the man who will be designated deputy prime minister, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, hold diametrically opposite views on some matters at least. The Lib-Dems are pro- Europe, while Cameron has in the past demonstrated a distaste for the EU and aligned himself with some of the most right-wing elements within it. Following the line traditionally taken by the Tories since the times of Winston Churchill, Cameron seems likely to adopt a pro-US stance. He has however emphasised this will be ‘steadfast’ rather than ‘slavish’.

Pakistan can expect the new British government then to fall essentially in line with US strategies on the war on terror. There is indeed some risk a new, harder-line influence may be added to President Obama’s administration on the issue. Cameron has in the past backed the war in Iraq and sought tougher action against Iran. His speech in Pakistan, on a September 2008 visit, said essentially nothing at all. While favouring democracy, it was condemned in the UK as being full of rhetoric without any clear policy line emerging. As prime minister, Cameron will of course need to be clearer. He will also need to take along the more moderate Clegg. The working of the coalition, and the possibility of a rather awkward dance between the two partners, will then be closely watched — at least until a more complete portrait of the new government begins to emerge from the post-election chaos.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 13th, 2010.