At yesterday’s Annual Business Lunch of Conservative Friends of Israel, Daniel Finkelstein (The Times’ new Chief Leader Writer) interviewed two of the Conservative Party’s top three figures; Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague and Shadow Chancellor George Osborne. You can watch the Q&A in the videos below but here are some of the key points to emerge from the discussion:
- CFI: The first organisation that William Hague joined as a Conservative was Conservative Friends of Israel.
- Zionism: William Hague said that he was a Zionist if Zionism means being a friend of Israel who believes in its right to exist and its right to defend itself. This echoed David Cameron’s reply of last year and William Hague joked that the new thing in the Conservative Party was that all MPs say the same things!
- Iraq: Both stated that they still support the Iraq war but too many mistakes were made. William Hague said that note should be taken of substantial progress in recent months. There is, he continued, another democracy in the Middle East alongside Israel; Iraq. We must help that democracy to flourish.
- Democratisation: The best long-term guarantee of peace and stability is the emergence of more and more democracies, said George Osborne, in response to a question about the Sharansky doctrine. William Hague said it takes time to create democracies. ‘Would Israel be more secure if all Israel’s neighbours became democracies?’, he asked. ‘Probably not,’ he replied. They would likely go in a direction more hostile to Israel. In the long-run, however, we want to see Israel’s neighbours becoming more open and democratic.
- Syria: William Hague said it was imperative that we avoid a so-called clash of civilisations by building much better links with moderate Islamic states, in particular. He repeated his commitment to a dialogue with Syria. He has previously spoken of an acquaintanceship with Syria.
- 2006’s Lebanon war: The Shadow Foreign Secretary stood by his belief that Israel’s behaviour in the Lebanon war had been "disproportionate" and militarily ineffective. It was the only time, he said, that he’d ever criticised an Israeli military campaign but you have to look at Lebanon today and see Hezbollah so much stronger to realise that it was not a good campaign for Israel.
- Hamas: William Hague said that Hamas must renounce violence and recognise Israel and honour previous agreements before Israel should talk directly to them.
- George W Bush: Both George Osborne and William Hague avoided answering a question about whether George W Bush had been a good President. George Osborne said noone should underestimate the difficulties that the Bush adminstration have faced in the post 9/11 world and their actions need to be judged in that context. Mr Hague said that history would judge President Bush more kindly than today’s commentators. He continued, however, by saying that America had been insufficiently open to the differences between Middle Eastern states – Syria and Iran, for example. There had been a tendency to see the Islamic world as monolithic when it is very complex and diverse.
- McCain v Obama: William Hague said that the Conservative Party would not choose between Barack Obama and John McCain although the Republicans were the sister party. George Osborne said that in terms of campaign techniques the Obama campaign was the campaign to study because of its "phenomenal" use of the internet.
The lunch was attended by eighty Tory MPs and many parliamentary candidates.
The picture quality in these three videos isn’t great but the sound quality is very good.