By Jonathan Isaby
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Earlier on this week, Labour peer and former Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Lord Anderson of Swansea asked Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell of Guildford why the European flag was not flown from 10 Downing Street and the Foreign Office on Europe Day (For the uninitiated, that is on May 9th).
Lord Howell replied that 10 Downing Street and the Foreign Office take "a straightforward approach" - that is to fly the union flag "at all times, with limited exceptions mainly for the patron saints' days for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."
Lord Anderson claimed this was a change of policy from the previous government, asking "In what way do such silly gestures serve our national interest?"
Lord Howell of Guildford replied that it was "absurd" so suggest that the flying of flags was any indication of the policy of commitment:
"If we flew the flag for every relationship with every multilateral organisation, we would be for ever hoisting flags and taking them down again. There is frankly no relationship between our activist and forward position on the European Union-we are playing a major part, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister over the weekend-and the actual flying of flags, which is not the intention of 10 Downing Street."
Lord Clinton-Davis, a former EU Commissioner, said that many people would view the Government's failure to fly the European flag on May 9th as "rather small-minded and counterproductive" and "to be deplored".
But Lord Howell again brushed off the criticism:
"He is again associating No. 10's wish to fly the flags that I described with a symbolism far beyond the reality. The reality is that decisions about flags are one matter and our policy, commitment, strategy and the centrality of the European Union in our foreign policy are another, to which we give the greatest possible importance and adherence."
A robust foreign policy should both define and unite us, yet, instead, with the most optimistic view, one is left with a dispiriting picture. At a time when we should be forging new alliances with new sources of power and influence that will affect our destiny intimately; at a time when we should be vigorously promoting new and more flexible structures regionally for the EU, instead of talking of more centralisation; at a time when we should be building up the Commonwealth as the ideal soft power network of the future; at a time when we should be massively strengthening and modernising our security forces to meet asymmetric threats; at a time when we should be redirecting our development and aid policies, and thinking clearly about whether aid really leads to development in all cases-which it does not; at a time when we should be reconstructing our overseas ministries to get a better resource balance and upgrading our whole diplomatic resources-at this time, we are doing none of those things.
Above all, these ambiguities in our world stance divide and confuse us here at home, as both the Afghan and, I am afraid, the Iraqi involvement have divided us, adding to the multicultural mayhem and planting of deep doubt within our society. With our staggering public debt and enormous budget deficit,
with the prospect of head-on collision with international bond markets looming and with our lost purpose, we are beginning to look like-and outside commentators are beginning to describe us as-a failed nation.
The global context has changed. Within it we need a new foreign policy direction based on a deep and intelligent analysis of the world conditions. We need new government machinery and a new Government to operate it successfully and with confidence and vigour. Our amazing country, built on its amazing and dazzling past, and still full of talent and vitality, deserves nothing less.
Read his full speech here.
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