06 May 05. In a move seen as a way of protecting his defence budget and thus his ability to wage war with his US ally, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has moved the Cabinet heavyweight, Dr John Reid into the Defence post to replace Geoff Hoon (See MANANGEMENT ON THE MOVE, below). A number of key decisions need to be made in this Parliament, the most vital being the nuclear question which we addressed last week. (See: BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.7 ISSUE 18, 06th May 2005, Blair to upgrade Britain’s nuclear weapons). The left wing of the Labour Party and the SNP have long been actively against any form of nuclear weapons or nuclear power and have picketed Faslane on a number of occasions. Without any nuclear power stations, the feedstock for nuclear weapons disappears eventually and without a nuclear Trident capability, the UK’s role in world politics diminishes and thus the status as our ally of choice to the U.S.’
The most likely survivors to any defence budget cuts would be those programmes associated with ‘out of area’ operations in Africa. Land Systems and combat equipment, not large aircraft carriers and the Typhoon 3rd tranche.
As Peter Riddell reports in the Times today, Tony Blair has little room for manoeuvre in dealing with Brussels and foreign powers
No more foreign adventures. Tony Blair is not only constrained at home. His freedom of manoeuvre internationally is now severely limited. Apart from the rerun of the arguments about the Iraq war, there was almost no discussion about overseas issues during the election campaign. And the implications for Britain’s foreign policy have been largely ignored since polling day, even though Mr Blair cannot escape these issues during his remaining time in 10 Downing Street.
The reduction in Labour’s majority in the Commons is less important than the change in the political mood and in his personal authority. Mr Blair acknowledged on election night how Iraq had been “a deeply divisive issue”. And the war was a factor, albeit one among several, that lost the party votes.
He repeated his familiar line that “after this election people want to move on”. What this really means, however, is “never again”, especially not with George Bush. A Populus poll for The Times during the campaign showed that, by a more than two to one margin, voters wanted Mr Blair to be more distant from President Bush than in the past four years.
Mr Blair’s reputation has remained higher overseas, especially in the United States, than in Britain, rather like Margaret Thatcher during the second half of her premiership. So American observers found the election perplexing. At least Mr Bush’s ally won, but . . . In The Weekly Standard, William Kristol said that the results had “the unfortunate implication that any future British government, whether under Blair, or his likely successor Gordon Brown, will hesitate to be as bold and as staunch an ally as Blair was with respect to Iraq”.
Policy in Iraq is unlikely to change in the short term. The level of violence is appalling and has worsened in the past week. But most voters back Mr Blair’s line that British troops should remain to help to build stable and democratic institutions, as long as they are wanted by the new Iraqi Government. That could change if violence against British troops increased. Mr Blair may come under pressure this autumn to provide a clearer timetable on the withdrawal, epecially with the United Nations mandate up for renewal at the end of the year.
The real constraint is against further military action. The big test here is Iran, where the diplomatic efforts by the EU3 (Britain, France and Germany) to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons programme are now in serious trouble. Iran has threatened to resume the conversion of raw uranium into a gas that can later be used to help to produce nuclear weapons. Some of the hawkish noises coming out of Tehran are linked to the presidential election there next month. But British officials