Britain’s leaders’ debate: A fraud in three acts

Published on WSWS, by Chris Marsden, 24 April 2010.

… The dispute that did emerge between the three, over whether or not to replace the Trident submarine nuclear weapons system, was framed entirely as an issue of how best to pursue a militarist agenda.

Clegg has called for the issue of Trident’s replacement or otherwise to be made part of an upcoming Strategic Defence Review. But he did so only on the grounds of whether it was cost-effective, reaffirming his commitment to Britain’s retention of nuclear weapons. 

Clegg cited a group of retired generals who have warned that replacing Trident could take money away from frontline troops and has said he favours a cruise missile-based nuclear weapons system.

That this position was meant to have incensed Brown and Cameron is mere electoral posturing, allowing Brown to warn of the threat supposedly represented by North Korea and Iran, and Cameron to declare that he agreed with Brown.

The rest of the debate was no better. There was no question at all regarding Iraq, the issue that has defined Britain’s foreign policy for almost a decade, or on Britain’s collusion with the United States in torture and extraordinary rendition.

Even the loaded reference to Afghanistan was only broached after another carefully selected question kicked off proceedings by asking how the party leaders would tackle “interference” by the European Union. Cameron seized on the occasion to sound all the notes Murdoch wanted to hear, including not handing over powers to Brussels and “standing up for Britain”.

Clearly feeling that more airtime was needed for right-wing posturing by the party leaders, Sky even fielded a question on immigration. This was despite immigration being the first question chosen to be asked by ITV in last week’s debate on domestic, and not foreign policy.

The leaders did not disappoint, with Cameron pledging once again to put a cap on immigration and Brown hailing Labour’s achievement in reducing net immigration and declaring that “if you don’t have a skill we need, don’t come to the country.” Clegg stated that the Liberal Democrats would reintroduce exit controls and only allow immigrants into areas where they were needed—provided, he insisted, that they “play by the rules, pay their taxes, [and] speak English” … (full long text).

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