Britain’s defence industry has no better friend than David Cameron, at least when it comes to exports.
Given the dramatic turn of events in the Middle East, the prime minister has certainly not opted for the path of least resistance.
We’re still at the beginning of this trip (as I write this I’m sitting in the Kuwaiti parliament). But it is already absolutely clear that he really does believe in commercial diplomacy – and that means promoting defence sales, come rain or shine.
The eight defence companies in the prime minister’s entourage have a found a faithful champion. These days executives say the easiest way to see a minister is to mention exports – and the lead is coming from the top.
It would have been easy to cancel his trade tour the Gulf, given the democratic convulsions across the region. Cameron could have easily played down the importance of arms exports, given Britain has been forced to revoke licences to both Bahrain and Libya.
But no. He stood his ground. He will press on with selling kit to autocratic regimes. Just compare that to how Gordon Brown would have reacted. And just imagine how alien this approach must feel to most Lib Dems.
Cameron is able to do so partly because he carries no baggage from past decisions. Libya is more Tony Blair’s problem than his. But the sales today could easily become the Cameron scandals of tomorrow. Britain has form, and not just with regard to Libya or Bahrain. One of the last Foreign Office commercial drives secured a big deal to sell tanks – to the Shah of Iran.