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Of all the oxymorons currently doing the rounds, ‘liberal conservatism’ is one of the slipperiest. It is this phrase which forms the crux of the Conservative party’s approach to international affairs but about which we have had little in the way of concrete definition. It slips off the tongue but leaves us little the wiser as to the criteria by which a future Conservative government might intervene on the international stage.

David Cameron first launched the phrase in his speech on foreign policy and national security in the annual JP Morgan lecture at the British American Project on 11 September 2006. ‘I am a liberal conservative, rather than a neo-conservative’, he said. Liberal ‘because I support the aim of spreading freedom and democracy, and support humanitarian intervention’. Conservative ‘because I recognise the complexities of human nature, and am sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world’. On his recent visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan, he stuck largely to the same script.

While foreign policy was comparatively low down the agenda at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, shadow foreign secretary William Hague used his speech to refer again to ‘our liberal conservative beliefs’. This, he ventured, was ‘the strength and purpose to keep our people safe today but also with the humility and patience to make them safer tomorrow’

Before Birmingham, in an interview with Fraser Nelson of The Spectator, the shadow schools secretary Michael Gove was characteristically honest about his own position, as an unrepentant neo-conservative. ‘If I say’, “Well actually I prefer to think of myself as a muscular liberal interventionist,” that’s running away from it. My view is: yes, I am. Let’s have a conversation about that’. But he was quick to add that he was not speaking for his leader, whom he saw also saw a ‘liberal conservative’. At this stage, there is no reason for such distinctions to precipitate a serious division in the shadow government. ‘If you look at what he said in the recent speech in Pakistan, or if you look at what he said in the context of Georgia’, Gove continued, ‘then what’s not to like?’

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April 18th, 2011
8:04 PM
@Chase I Completely agree with you, Japan just had an earthquake and everyone is anxious to help Japan but no one is doing anything. Its all politics, and these so called "politicians" just want the public recognition of doing the right thing.

March 21st, 2010
5:03 PM
With all the "I'm a conservative this or a liberal that" it just always seems like so much talk and over examination of situations, that things never get done. Haiti has an earthquake and everyone is all over it to help. There are plenty of other nations that have been going without food and care for decades and nobody seems to care about those people. Its all about showing face and politics.

October 30th, 2009
1:10 AM
I really feel like a huge problem with today's politicians is that they want to please everyone by being moderate on everything. Its not lying per se, but if you dont take a stand how can you get any voter's respect? Jamie

Jason S.
October 3rd, 2009
12:10 AM
What else can I say but I am speechless this was such a well though out article and definitely opened my eyes......Jason

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