Lord Malloch-Brown forced to eat his words


Lord Malloch-Brown, formerly plain Mark Malloch Brown, worked for the UN (and other international organisations) for many years.  He retired from his post as Deputy General-Secretary of the UN in December 2006 at the end of Kofi Annan’s term as Secretary-General.  In June 2007, Gordon Brown elevated him to the peerage and appointed him as a Minister in the Foreign Office, with a seat in the Cabinet, in his “government of all the talents”.


On 23 October 2007, Lord Malloch-Brown opened and closed a debate in the House of Lords on the Middle East and Afghanistan.  In his closing remarks, he gave the definite impression that the Government was edging towards having formal contact with Hamas and Hezbollah, as recommended by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in July 2007 (see my article The Foreign Affairs Committee: Shifting ground on the Middle East [1]).


Here is what he said:


“I come to Hamas and Hezbollah and whether the British Government, or indeed the UN, should deal with them. In the case of Hamas, there have been contacts with both and British diplomats have been heavily engaged with negotiating the release of hostages such as Alan Johnston. They have been heavily involved in humanitarian discussions, as were UN officials under both this and the last secretary-general.


“The line has been drawn at formal political contacts at a time when Hamas refuses to recognise a sovereign member-state nation of the United Nations, Israel. However, I think that everyone agrees that while that political recognition must be withheld, in terms of negotiations with Hamas at the formal political level, contacts are vital. Over time, they must grow into full political contacts because, ultimately, Hamas must be a party to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.


“Many of the same arguments apply to Hezbollah. We can abhor—as we all do—the tactics of both organisations and the use of violence and terrorism. Ultimately, as has been said, it is indeed British history—and that of the United Nations—that you often have to talk to people that you do not like very much.” [2]


When one hears a Minister say that contacts with Hamas “must grow into full political contacts” (and “the same arguments apply to Hezbollah”) then it is reasonable to assume that policy is in the process of evolution towards formal contact with both. 


(Defense Secretary, Des Browne, told a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference on 24 September 2007 that the Taliban would have to be talked to as well.  According to The Guardian, he said:


“In Afghanistan, at some stage, the Taliban will need to be involved in the peace process because they are not going away, any more than I suspect Hamas are going away from Palestine.” [3])


Malloch-Brown eats his words

However, two days after Malloch-Brown made his remarks about Hamas and Hezbollah, he was forced to make a written statement to the House of Lords, clarifying that there had been no policy change.  Here is what he wrote:


“Following my closing speech at the debate on the Middle East and Afghanistan on 23 October, (Official Report, col. 1068), I would like to clarify to the House the Government's policy on contacts with Hamas and Hezbollah.


“Our policy on Hamas has not changed. We do not have a political dialogue with Hamas. We continue to expect it to adhere to the quartet principles of January 2006. These principles remain the fundamental conditions for a viable peace process. We hope that Hamas will accept the principles and grasp the opportunity for dialogue and progress. We had contact with Hamas following the kidnapping of Alan Johnston. The contact was purely on the kidnapping and fulfilled our consular responsibility to do all we could for Alan.


“Currently we have no contact with Hezbollah. Our objective remains to encourage it to participate in Lebanese politics as a fully democratic political party. We also want Hezbollah to comply with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs), including UNSCRs 1559, 1680 and 1701, which call for the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon. The UK's policy on contacts with Hezbollah’s political wing has been based on our assessment of its behaviour, and our judgment of whether such contacts would encourage it to move away from violence and play a constructive role in Lebanese politics. We continue to call on Hezbollah to end terrorist activity, abandon its status as an armed group and participate in the democratic process on the same terms as other political parties.” [4]


There is little doubt that this clarification was the result of intervention from the Prime Minister’s office.


Lord Malloch-Brown can count himself lucky compared with Admiral Alan West, another outsider imported by Brown (to be a Minister in the Home Office responsible for security).  When, on the morning of 15 November 2007, he expressed scepticism about the need for an increase in the 28-day detention period for terrorist suspects on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he was forced to eat his words before television cameras within the hour.  By contrast, Malloch-Brown was allowed to do it quietly by way of a written answer, which went unreported.


No discernable shift

When Brown became Prime Minister in June 2007, his spin doctors gave the impression that he wanted to adopt a stance in foreign affairs that was more independent of the US than his predecessor.  This was to be one of the distinguishing marks of the new regime.


While working for the UN, Mark Malloch Brown gained a reputation for opposition to the present US administration.  In a speech on 7 June 2006 [5], he criticised the US for a lack of commitment to the UN, which produced a fierce riposte from the US administration, including a threat to cut off US funding for the UN if an apology was not forthcoming.


It was easy, therefore, for Brown’s spin doctors to present Malloch Brown’s appointment as a signal of a coming shift in foreign policy away from subservience to the US.  However, no discernable shift has occurred.  On occasions, ministers have made noises that sounded like a shift (and have been trailed to the press as a shift) but on each occasion the Prime Minister’s office has taken steps to deny that a shift had taken place.  The denial that policy had shifted with regard to Hamas and Hezbollah is the latest – and the most important since it was about a concrete policy issue.


Alexander’s rebuke to the US

First, there was a speech by Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for International Development (and Brown’s close friend and would be election organiser) to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on 12 July 2007.  This was trailed as criticism of US foreign policy and produced banner headlines to that effect in The Guardian the next day.  The following remarks from Alexander’s speech were said to be a Brownite rebuke to the US for its post-9/11 foreign policy:


“In the 20th century a country’s might was too often measured in what they could destroy. In the 21st, strength should be measured by what we can build together. …


“We need to demonstrate by our word and our actions that we are: internationalist not isolationist; multilateralist not unilateralist; active not passive; and driven by core values consistently applied, not special interests. 


“Just as we need the rule of law at home to have civilization so we need rules abroad to ensure global civilization.” [6]


Nothing new

But no sooner were the words out of Alexander’s mouth than the Prime Minister’s spokesman declared in his briefing on 13 July 2007:


“This was not a particularly startling new insight, nor anything one would have expected to be any different from either this Prime Minister or the previous Prime Minister or for that matter, the President of the US.” [7]


Most of the briefing was taken up with countering the interpretation of Alexander’s words that had previously been fed to journalists by some other part of the government machine, presumably the Foreign Office.  And Brown went on BBC Radio 5 that morning to emphasise that there had been no change in policy:


“We will not allow people to separate us from the United States of America in dealing with the common challenges that we face around the world.


“I think people have got to remember that the relationship between Britain and America and between a British prime minister and an American president is built on the things that we share, the same enduring values about the importance of liberty, opportunity, the dignity of the individual.


“I will continue to work, as Tony Blair did, very closely with the America administration.” [8]


Malloch-Brown interview

But it is clear that Alexander’s speech was part of an effort – by the Foreign Office, presumably – to give the impression that under Brown Britain was going to act more independently of the US in foreign policy.


In an extraordinary interview with the Sunday Telegraph published two days later [9], Lord Malloch-Brown declared unequivocally that “Britain’s approach to foreign policy is about to change radically” and that “Brown will not be cosying up to Mr Bush quite as much on the sofa”.  He continued:


“Events determine relationships. For better of worse, it is very unlikely that the Brown/Bush relationship is going to go through the baptism of fire and therefore be joined together at the hip like the Blair/Bush relationship was.”


Those remarks contradict his boss’s remarks two days earlier on Radio 5 that Britain and America were going to continue to be joined at the hip.  How did he survive such apparently blatant insubordination?  Most likely, his interview with the Sunday Telegraph was done before Brown decided, for whatever reason, to quash any notion that under him British foreign policy was going to be more independent of the US.


(Malloch-Brown is an extraordinarily arrogant person.  In his Sunday Telegraph interview, he portrayed himself as “the wise [53-year-old] eminence behind the young [42-year-old] Foreign Secretary”, David Miliband.  He went on to say that “he wants to contribute … his less conventional, internationalist views”:


“I am not steeped in the British way of doing things. My whole career has been spent trying to get China or France or the international rescue committee to back me on some quixotic intervention on anything from child mortality to an ugly little civil war somewhere. I think in a more lateral, out-of-the-box way.”


That such a self-important person was made to eat his words cannot but be an occasion for rejoicing.)


*  *  *  *  *


When Brown succeeded Blair in June 2007, his political strategy was to look different from Blair and it was clearly signalled that foreign policy was an area where a difference would be apparent.  His appointment of Mark Malloch Brown made this signal credible.


But every time ministers have said things on foreign policy to give substance to this appearance, he has slapped them down.  Most recently, he forced his Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to alter a speech on the EU after parts of it had been released to the press (see Times report Another Bruges speech stirs up controversy as Brown weighs in [10] of 14 November 2007).  It’s an absurd way to run a government.



David Morrison

Labour & Trade Union Review

20 November  2007





[1]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/lebanon/fac-middle-east.htm

[2]  www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/71023-0014.htm

[3]  politics.guardian.co.uk/labour2007/story/0,,2176882,00.html

[4]  www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/71025-wms0002.htm

[5]  www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/dsgsm287.doc.htm

[6]  www.dfid.gov.uk/News/files/Speeches/council-foreign-relations.asp

[7]  www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page12466.asp

[8]  news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6896797.stm

[9]  www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/07/14/nforeign214.xml

[10]  www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article2879884.ece