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  • 3 weeks later...

Foreign policy

Going global (won't be cheap)

In comparison to the relative quiet of the Labour conference, the Conservatives are nurturing a next generation of foreign policy talent. Juliet Manning and Marcus Drummond-MacBeath both articulated a view of foreign affairs that demonstrated command of the issues. It remains to be seen whether they're prepared to comprehend the cost.

Both Ms Manning and Mr Drummong-MacBeath announced support for greater spending on foreign aid, with a particular focus on confronting Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative. This comes following the Chancellor's decision to cut foreign aid last year and maintain foreign aid spending at 0.5% of GDP for the next three years. Andrew Mitchell, a former international development secretary, lauded the stand and declared he hoped it gained more prominence in the Conservative Party.

Likewise, both also called for significant increasing in defence spending in order to match their greater ambitions for "Global Britain". Ms Manning offered a more focused discussion of a vision for the Armed Forces: broadening capabilities and transforming the military into one that could confront all-hazards. Mr Drummond-MacBeath, alternatively, offered the "more is more" case in making his argument.

Neither of these commitments come particularly cheap. Combined, restoring spending on foreign aid to 0.7% of GNI and increasing defence spending to 2.5% of GDP will cost approximately £16 billion this year. Presuming that the economy continues to grow, that number will only increase. The money to pay for those increases will have to be found somewhere and its unclear that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will provide them.

There is also the alternate question: where do we invest that money. Mr Drummond-MacBeath had perhaps the most notable answer in advocating for a firm pivot to great power competition against China and Russia. His brash statements about the Chinese Communist Party earned him plaudits from Neil O'Brien, the co-founder of the hawkish China Research Group. "It was one of the more strident speeches that we've heard on China," said a Chatham House researcher. Surely we can expect to see Mr Drummond-MacBeath advocate for more engagement in the Indo-Pacific - perhaps an enduring presence there being a focus of his proposed defence investments.

Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether Whitehall will take this advocacy to heart. Competing forces, ranging from foreign secretary Liz Truss, who is viewed as more militant and less keen on development, to Mr Sunak, will determine the direction that the United Kingdom takes. Whether the backbenches - either a cautiously internationalist Ms Manning or a vocally hawkish Mr Drummond-MacBeath - can alter that course remains to be seen. 

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