DO you send a boy on a man's job? That is the interesting question raised by the speech made in Washington DC on Thursday by Douglas Alexander, Britain's new International Development minister, a junior member of the Cabinet. It has been quite widely interpreted as sending a signal that under Gordon Brown's leadership Britain's foreign policy will shift from close identity with the United States to a more multilateralist approach. But if Mr Brown wanted to deliver such an important message would he not ask his new foreign secretary, David Milliband, to carry it, or even take it himself when he next visits Washington later this month?

In any case, did Mr Alexander's words really bear the weight being attributed to them? In a key passage he said: “In the 20th century a country's might was too often measured in what it could destroy. In the 21st century strength should be measured by what we can build together.” A minister responsible for International Development could hardly be expected to say anything else. Yet Mr Alexander's speech has been given widely differing interpretations even in Britain; yesterday the Independent said it represented another break from Blair's policies while the Daily Telegraph quoted from similar sentiments expressed by Mr Blair in a speech in Chicago in 1999.

By the way, for the record, Foreign Secretary David Milliband said last week that “none of the world's biggest problems can be solved without the United States”!

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