In the last stretch of political campaigns, things tend to get ugly as the real cost of
winning and losing becomes clear. This one is no different, with its suggestions of tactical voting and disagreements about tactical weapons.
The latter has become particularly viscious with a former spymaster, an ex-general and a former CT chief calling into question the securty and defence policies Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.
In their defence, the Lib Dems have positioned their biggest weapon, Paddy Ashdown, who fired a volley against Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, saying that "things had changed since
he supplied intelligence to Tony Blair about Iraq and WMD". Bull’s eye!
But who is right – Britain’s G-men or the Granola Army? In a perfect world, it would be very sensible to review the role of Trident in a leisurely way. President Obama is trying to reduce global
nuclear weapons in a bid to outflank Iran; if Britain said it was reviewing its nuclear posture, the US would probably be pleased.
In such a world it would also be sensible to review, publicly, what UK agencies have been up to in the War on Terror. Too many accusations have been brought to light to simply dismiss any and all
accusations out of hand.
But this is not a perfect world. Far from it. And the Lib Dem’s policies are problematic. Saying upfront that Trident has to be reviewed, sends a signal not of careful policy-making but of
weakness. To publicly prioritise the review of the security services – without a counteveiling and public commitment to their work – risks undemining their work – as the Obama administration has
And while Nick Clegg can cite speeches that he has given extolling the trans-atlantic relationship, projecting the sense that a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for a rebalanced US-UK link is a kind
of vote-grabbing subtelty that is missed in DC, Moscow and Tehran. I have given more than 15 interviews to foreign journalists who have asked, with dubious hope in their voices, whether the
Lib Dems would push a new government away from the US.
It is not as if the Lib Dems are a bunch of granola-eating surrender monkeys. Id rather go to war with Paddy Ashdown next to me than the entire Cabinet and many on the Tory front bench. It is just
that the Lib Dems seem willing use the dog-whistle tactics on matters of security without realising that doing so projects national weakness.