The leaders of the three major British political parties debated foreign policy on Sky News tonight. Questions from the audience quickly steered the discussion in a more domestic direction but the politicians were able to present their views on the European Union, the special relationship with the United States, climate change and defense.
20:18: By Nick Ottens
The debate started off with a discussion on Britain’s role within the European Union. With the exception of Cameron, the party leaders stressed the benefits derived from EU membership. Brown, for instance, claimed that as many as three million British jobs depend on Europe while Clegg promised greater British leadership within union. The Conservative leader was skeptical. He pledged never to surrender the pound in favor of the euro while for all powers to be transfered from Westminster to Brussels, Cameron demanded a referendum.
Both Brown and Clegg lambasted the Conservative Party for pulling out of the center-right People’s Party in the European Parliament to join the Euroskeptic, anti-federalist European Conservatives and Reformists group. According to Clegg, this club is made up of crazy, nationalistic homophobes.
20:22: By Nick Ottens
On defense, the party leaders reiterated the positions they had taken during their confrontation last week. Cameron stressed the importance of sending troops into battle with the right equipment; Clegg said again that he didn’t want to buy the Eurofighter Tranche 3B; Brown offered little of substance other than praising the bravery of British troops stationed in the Middle East.
20:26: By Nick Ottens
Cameron took the opportunity to criticize Clegg for wanting to scrap the Trident nuclear defense system. An independent deterrent, he argued, is essential in a world that is changing so rapidly. “We simply don’t know what the world will look like in forty years’ time.”
Brown was quick to join him. He told the Liberal Democrat to “get real.” With Iran and North Korea developing a nuclear capacity, it would be irresponsible, said the prime minister, to surrender Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
20:34: By Nick Ottens
All leaders were glad to present themselves as environmentalists. Brown stood out, though, by expressing concern over Britain’s dependancy on oil and wondering why his colleagues weren’t more in favor of switching to nuclear. “Any party that is now excluding nuclear power,” he said, “is not really thinking about the needs of the future.”
Cameron talked about isolating homes instead but Clegg responded and argued that nuclear power is too expensive and would come too late to address the country’s modern day energy crisis.
20:38: By Nick Ottens
Brown criticized both his colleagues, though particularly Cameron, for supposedly being “anti-American.” The Conservatives may want a “big society” at home, said Brown, but their policies will bring about a “little Britain” abroad. He, for one, had managed to get the Americans to promote the G20, apparently, and was altogether more of an internationalist. On the special relationship, Clegg opined that “it shouldn’t be a one way street.”
20:47: By Nick Ottens
To restore faith in Westminster, Clegg proposed extensive reform, including granting people the ability to sack corrupt parliamentarians and redrawing the country’s political map which currently leaves the Liberal Democrats with far fewer representatives than their nationwide support would suggest.
Brown argued in favor of an elected House of Lords while Cameron wanted to “cut the costs of politics” but not reform the system too greatly lest the country suffer from “permanent hung parliaments.”
20:53 By Nick Ottens
On the role of government, Cameron stressed that the state can’t be the answer to everything. He argued for personal responsibility and against punishing people for their success. “If you work hard and save, you actually don’t get the government behind you,” he complained. Brown retorted that if the Conservatives have their way, it is only the 3,000 richest of Britons who would benefit.
21:11: By Nick Ottens
The party leaders discussed pensions, which they all seemed in favor of raising. Cameron blamed Labour for spreading “lies” about the Conservatives taking away entitlements from the elderly. “You should not frighten people in an election campaign,” he said.
All three reiterated their positions on economic policy, with Cameron arguing against a “jobs tax” and Brown warning that without government support, thousands of job could be imperiled. “You are a risk to our economy,” he told Cameron.
Clegg proposed to split up banks, something that is also discussed in the United States. Brown disagreed. “You don’t solve your problems by making banks smaller.” Northern Rock was a relatively small business after all and that didn’t stop it from going under.
21:27: By Nick Ottens
David Cameron positioned the Conservatives as the only party willing to push for significant immigration reform. He criticized Labour for allowing mass immigration throughout its past years in office. Brown largely targeted Clegg though who, he warned, would grant amnesty to all illegal aliens.
21:34: By Nick Ottens
In his closing remarks, Brown reminded viewers that he was the one who had managed Britain through the recession. “Don’t do anything that puts the economic recovery at risk,” he said. The Conservatives would endanger the recovery and leave the country “isolated in Europe.” The liberals, on the other hand, would endanger Britain’s security by cutting Trident.
Cameron promised to “take the country forward” with “fresh, new leadership.” He mentioned traditional Conservative talking points: “keep our country safe,” “keep our borders secure” and maintain a strong national defense. “We have incredible days ahead of us,” he professed. “We can achieve anything if we pull together and built a big society.”
Clegg, naturally, stressed change. “Something really exciting is beginning to happen,” he believed. “People are beginning to hope that we can do things differently this time.” He urged voters not to let anyone convince them that it can’t be different. “It can.”