Bruce Anderson gives a warm welcome to today’s interim report from the Conservative Party’s study group on security. The Independent’s Mr Anderson sees Dame Pauline Neville-Jones’ report as a bold attempt to consider Britain’s foreign, defence and security policies within the same context and, in future, to see that policy progressed under the direction of a new US-style Security Council, to be chaired by the Prime Minister. Mr Cameron should not be surprised to find Dame Pauline, a former Whitehall mandarin, recommending a new Whitehall structure to deal with a problem.
To ConservativeHome, the rest of the report also appears to be largely procedural and underwhelming. The Telegraph notes that it "calls for a fresh drive to build a more stable Middle East by working in partnership with countries in the region." Wow! It continues (according to the FT): "We should recognise that we will find it difficult to serve our interests, or those of America, if we are regarded as their mute partner in every foreign undertaking." It also makes now familar criticisms of the Iraq war and reaffirms the existing Tory policy of a Cabinet-level minister for homeland security. The Tories have a homeland security spokesman – Patrick Mercer – although, strangely, he sits outside of the shadow cabinet.
There may be more to come at this lunchtime’s announcement of the report’s main findings but the headline recommendations appear to have been trailed already. ConservativeHome’s top three hopes for future recommendations are: (1) A clear call for much greater resourcing of Britain’s over-stretched armed forces; (2) Acceleration of moves towards missile defence; and (3) A policy of zero tolerance towards domestic Muslim extremism including an end to public funding of any groups with Islamist connections and close supervision of foreign funding of UK mosques.
In yesterday’s Sunday Times Labour’s Alan Milburn argued that Labour enjoyed the upper hand on issues of national security: "Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Reid have given Labour the upper hand on issues of national security: identity cards, Trident missiles, Asbos and curfews may smack of the big clunking fist but these policies tend to enjoy popular support. By opposing ID cards and anti-terrorist laws, the Conservatives’ purported aim is for a less authoritarian position. Cameron believes the only way back for his Tories is to hug a hoodie and praise a Polly; so blame is out, love is in. His gamble is that while traditional supporters may find the journey uncomfortable, they will not seek another destination and that by changing track he can get enough disaffected and floating voters to join his centre-bound cavalcade."
3.30pm: Full paper from Dame Pauline’s group (pdf)