Weekly Column

Kissinger, Netanyahu and Cameron

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I had very much enjoyed Lord Carrington’s Memorial Service in Westminster Abbey sitting next to a personable old gentleman, with whom I had a number of brief conversations. It was only when his assistant came over at the end of the service addressing him as “Mr Kissinger” that I became aware of my brush with true greatness! I was sorry to see Henry Kissinger’s death this week at the age of 100.

We need diplomatic greatness of his kind at a time like this- to find a peaceful solution in Gaza, perhaps by extending the very welcome current humanitarian ceasefire, and then working towards a ‘two-state’ solution. Kissinger, of course, was Jewish, having fled the Nazis at the age of 15, but he once memorably said that “were it not for my accident of birth, I might well have been anti-semitic”. (By which he meant I think that was no Zionist). It may be that it is greatness of that kind that we need now to rise above the atrocities of 7 October, and of the Holocaust of WW2 and try to find some kind of accommodation.

I am not sure that Binyamin Netanyahu has that mark of greatness- or is it just that he is stuck between the rock of politically having to demand harsh retribution for those events, and the hard humanitarian place and the overwhelming need to find some kind of long-term solution. Without being any kind of expert on Israeli internal politics, it seems to me at a glance that he is achieving neither thing very satisfactorily, and may well pay a heavy political price for it.

Here at home, the PM has taken the bold and unconventional step of asking David Cameron to be Foreign Secretary with a seat in the Lords. Cameron has the list of contacts, and the ‘grown-up’ approach which comes from many years in the corridors of International Power as PM. He has the gravitas to be a great Foreign Secretary and to help Britain punch above our weight in the Middle East, Ukraine and elsewhere. That confidence perhaps trumps some of my personal reservations about ‘Dave’ and some of the things he did as PM, not least the Brexit Referendum and its handling, and his ‘Remainer’ stance.

As a member of the House of Commons Procedure Committee, I have also expressed my very real reservations about the constitutional and political validity of having a Foreign Secretary who is not answerable to the Commons. It would mean, for example, that important statements on Foreign Affairs would routinely be made in the Lords, the Commons following along in their Lordships’ wake. That seems to me to undermine the proper primacy of the elected House, and I will be arguing for some kind of a change to our Standing Orders to allow (and require) him to appear at the Despatch Box in our House.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of my Chairmanship of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust, and the 20th anniversary of my Chairmanship of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Services; I am proud to be a graduate of the Royal College of Defence Studies, to be Patron of Operation Christmas Box and to have written several books on defence related matters.

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James Gray
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November 30, 2023