Two weeks ago you raised a variety of questions for the Shadow Defence Secretary. ConservativeHome selected twelve of them and Dr Fox answers them all below.
James Maskell: "The Conservative Party policy is to stay in Iraq. How long do you think that British forces should stay in Iraq?"
Like everyone else here I want to see our troops come home as soon as possible, but that can only be done when we are confident that the Iraq we leave behind is a functioning, stable nation. To depose a brutal dictator only to leave behind a failed state would be a terrible legacy. Worse still, it would see Iran left standing as the regional superpower – a situation US and British foreign policy has spent almost thirty years trying to avoid. If we leave Iraq prematurely the answer to the question “who won the Iraq war?” will be: Iran. That would be the worst answer of all.
Mark Clarke: "Conservatives often talk about overstretch in the armed forces. Do you agree that they are overstretched? And, if so, would you fix this by reducing troop commitments (in which case, where?) or increasing the size of the military (in which case, how much?)"
The Armed Forces are certainly overstretched. This year we will spend only 2.2% of our GDP on defence. This is the smallest proportion of our national wealth that we have spent on defending our country since 1930 – yet we are asking our troops to do far more than the Government’s own Planning Assumptions have budgeted for. The gaps between going on tour are shrinking, putting soldiers and their families under ever-increasing strain.
Until we have, as a Party decided what our foreign policy objectives are, we cannot formulate an appropriate defence policy – you cannot create a credible defence policy in a vacuum – so we cannot decide whether we need to spend more to match our level of commitments, or reduce our commitments to match our current level of spending. What is unavoidable is that we cannot continue as we are. The Party’s policy review committee is engaged in this at the moment, and I would not want to pre-empt their conclusions.
Simon C: "Can the UN be reformed so that is becomes an effective force for regional and global security in the 21st Century? If so, how? If not, what should be done?"
As I have already said in relation to energy security, we cannot seek to respond to today’s threats by relying on yesterday’s security institutions which were constructed around a very different type of threat. Today’s security threats are not so much state-to-state as individuals launching asymmetric attacks on infrastructure. Consequently, our security institutions must be so constructed as to be able to respond to that threat. Real reform of not only the UN but other global structures is overdue.
Peter: "Many conservatives found your 'broken society' diagnosis depressingly accurate, but were perhaps more sceptical about how it would work in attracting new support for the Conservative Party. How can we make the fight against family breakdown and its associated miseries an electorally successful part of our platform?"
I believe that people will increasingly realise that while we may have become a more affluent society, we have also become a dysfunctional one in too many areas.
I am confident that the work being done by Iain Duncan Smith’s social justice policy review group will demonstrate that the Conservative Party can provide solutions to my diagnosis of a ‘broken society’ that attract new supporters. It was Iain that first gave me a platform to speak on about the ‘broken society’. Indeed, David Cameron will be giving a speech on family policy very soon.
Goldie: "Thank you for your inspired leadership campaign. This is somewhat outside of your direct brief, but do you have sympathy for the idea that Britain should seek to formalize the existing informal 'Anglosphere' alliances, specifically e.g. by joining NAFTA or negotiating a new trans-atlantic freed-trade zones or in other ways cooperate more directly with several countries that are more natural allies of Britain than the continental members of the EU?"
As you may know, I already organise a group called Atlantic Bridge which seeks to deepen the cultural and political relationship between North America and the UK, and The Party also has strong links with our partners in Australia and New Zealand. The problem with Europe is not that it is “too foreign”, but that it is “not foreign enough” – in a dynamic, global economy we have to look not just at Europe, but to our friends around the world. Security institutions such as NATO, for example, were based on a time when our security concerns were mostly concentrated on the Soviet threat. In an era when the threat is very different, so should our security arrangements differ.
JT: "Most prominent politicians in the Conservative party pretend to ignore that Britain's membership of the EU now prevents the Party from proposing so many of the changes this country needs, from trade reforms to restoration of our fishing stocks to the ability to deport asylum seekers who go on to commit murder and rape here. When will you tell Mr Cameron that unless he faces up honestly to what his predecessors in the Party have done to democracy in this country and we leave the EU and repeal the ECHR, the Party will remain an irrelevance to many ordinary people?"
Although the EU constitution may be ‘on hold’, the federalists are
losing no time in finding other ways to accelerate European
integration. In particular, they have lighted upon a Common Security
& Foreign Policy as the backdoor route to a federal Europe. I will
shortly be giving a speech to the CPS on the inherent dangers of
European defence integration, a single European Army, and a single
procurement process for military materiel. We need to address these
issues as a matter of urgency.
Andrew Woodman: "Do you believe the withdrawing of the Conservative whip in the European parliament from Roger Helmer was unfair and unjust, and was there any more you could have done as Shadow Foreign Secretary to stop and reverse the decision?"
The question of the Whip in the European Parliament is not a matter for the Party in Westminster.
Matt: "What do you feel are the 4 key issues that we must gain the voters trust on to win?"
We must first demonstrate that we are in politics not for ourselves, but for those we represent, and that we are on their side. We must then address people’s concerns. We must address concerns over financial security, especially for the elderly – pensions and long term care can only grow as political issues. Issues of public safety are equally vital. Our public services must be run so as to ensure we have the skills we need to deal with tomorrow’s challenges, especially education where we need to be at the forefront of the knowledge economy if we are to compete successfully.
Benc: "Many party activists wish to see the 'balance' you talked about on GMTV. Do you expect this to happen? What are you doing to ensure it does?"
Successful leaders of the Conservative Party have always realised
that the Party can only win elections and avoid having to form external
coalitions with other Parties if it is able to maintain a broad
internal coalition. David Cameron understands this, which is why he has
brought people from all sections of the Party into his Shadow Cabinet.
Margaret Thatcher managed this with great skill, and with obvious
Henry Edward-Bancroft: "If you had had longer as Chairman of the party what would you have liked to have done?"
I would have liked to refine and develop our use of technology in all its forms – such as Voter Vault and the Internet – to enhance our campaigning capabilities.
Worcester Woman: "How should Britain reduce the number of abortions?"
On a personal level, I would be in favour of reducing the time limit
placed on abortions, and introducing a stricter definition of the
circumstances in which abortion should be permitted.
Sylvia Dennis: "Has getting married changed your attitude to politics?"
No – except that it has given me a good lesson in how to compromise!