At the next election, foreign policy can be a winner for Labour. But only if we demonstrate why it is integral to Britain’s security and opportunity, set out a clear vision of British foreign policy that draws on our values, and show why progressive ends cannot be delivered by conservative means.
Foreign policy used to be considered enemy territory for the left. It was the realm where national interest had to take precedence over progressive values.
I think that version of foreign policy is out-dated. The promotion of our values are not a distraction from national interests, but the best way of securing them.
By progressive values, I really mean the two traditions that gave birth to this party: the radical liberal tradition that emphasises individual freedom and democratic rights; and the social democratic emphasis on a more just and equal distribution of resources. Both are critical to furthering our national interests.
Promoting democracy and human rights is the best way of protecting Britain. The main threats to security emanate from countries in weak states, with little rule of law, and no democratic accountability; or authoritarian states where power is unchecked.
Reducing inequalities in income, wealth and power are not only desirable things in their own right, they contribute to a safer world.
The Tories now claim to agree with our goals. But David Cameron says that “progressive ends will best be met through conservative means.” And that is the new con, in Cameron’s conservatives. You cannot deliver progressive ends by Tory isolationism from Europe and Tory anti-statism.
Think of the things we want to achieve in the world, and imagine how you do them without a strong European Union. Democracy has taken root in eastern Europe, in large part, because of the attraction of joining the largest single market in the world. When the EU sets new low-carbon vehicle emission standards, it transforms the global car market. Inequality will only be addressed by the EU playing its part in securing a conclusion to the Doha trade round.
The Tories excessive faith in the power of the nation is ill-suited to an interdependent world. But so too is the Tories excessive scepticism in the power of the state. Climate change will not be addressed without incentives to move from high carbon to low carbon technology. Financial markets need more effective regulation. Poverty will not be tackled without large transfers of income. On their own markets, do not produce the global public goods we need; markets have to be shaped by states.
If the Tories were in power. I fear the Tories would oscillate between hubris and fatalism: between thinking they can achieve more than they can with the means at their disposal; and then retreating to a more conventional foreign policy, preserving narrowly defined national interests, forgetting that poverty and authoritarianism will store up problems that will spill over into our borders.
So my message is simple. We can win the next election because it is our party that has the right values to deliver security and opportunity. We must defend our record, by being candid about its strengths and weaknesses. We must set out a bold vision. And we must show why conservatives means cannot deliver our progressive ends.