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What a Labour government would mean for the world

27 February 2015

Gareth Thomas MPBy Gareth Thomas, Shadow Foreign Office Minister and Labour MP for Harrow West

The numerous foreign policy challenges facing the next government are well known. The threats of terrorism, cyber-attacks and transnational organised crime are growing, while Russian aggression in Ukraine represents a real test for Britain and its allies. More than 200,000 people have died and an estimated 9 million have had to flee their homes since the conflict began in Syria in March 2011. There are now more than 50 million people globally who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, the highest figure in the post-war period, and the equivalent of more than the entire population of Spain.

Faced with such grim statistics, and in the wake of images of atrocities such as the murder of hostages by Islamic State militants, it is possible to see why there is a growing sense that these threats and challenges are now so complex that they are essentially insurmountable. There are those who argue that Britain, and the West more generally, are on an inevitable course of decline, and that the only option is to retreat into isolationism.

But an incoming Labour government in 2015, led by Ed Miliband, would not share this view. As Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, has set out, Labour will pursue an agenda of progressive internationalism.

We share with other parties the view that the key goals of UK foreign policy are to promote our economic prospects, and to defend the physical security of British citizens. This means, for example, that we must devote resources to tackle the threat of terrorism and cyber-attacks. But Labour will seek to pursue these key goals within a clear framework of progressive values and principles.

In practice, a progressive and internationalist approach would recognise the benefits that the UK has gained from a period of sustained and organised solidarity with like-minded nations since the end of the Second World War, based on common democratic values. We have built strong links with the United States and the Commonwealth, and through institutions such as the European Union, United Nations and Nato, have been able to promote our core security and economic interests through co-operation with other nations.

We must strengthen, not weaken, the post-1945 international institutions and treaties such as the UN, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation and the Non Proliferation Treaty, if we are to continue to make the case for international norms, such as the laws of war, intervention to prevent genocide and repression, and respect for human rights. As Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary has set out, the Tories’ disregard for the European Convention on Human Rights is not just an attack on the individual rights it has protected in the UK, but also severely weakens our influence and authority on human rights abuses abroad.

A progressive internationalist approach is also essential if we are to tackle global challenges like climate change. The UN summit in Paris later this year represents a vital opportunity to reach a global agreement on tackling climate change, and the UK can play a key role in delivering an ambitious outcome from this conference.

2015 is also a crucial year for international development. Negotiations have begun on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will be decided at the UN in September. The last Labour government worked with other countries to champion the Millennium Development Goals which has driven enormous progress, but with more than one billion people still living on less than $1.25 a day, there is still much work to be done.

The scale of devastation in western Africa caused by ebola demonstrates the importance of building up the capacity of local healthcare systems in developing countries, not only to support the communities most affected by the outbreak, but also because in an increasingly interconnected world, such outbreaks can pose a risk to our shores.

While huge advances have been made in tackling HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, in some countries poor governance, slow progress on women’s rights, and anti-gay legislation threaten to reinforce the stigmatisation of sufferers and set back efforts to tackle the epidemic.

Labour believes that universal health coverage, the importance of human rights, and action on climate change should be the central priorities of the SDGs.

In advancing these international priorities though, it is clear that an incoming Labour government would be operating under a number of serious constraints, including the impact of budgetary constraints on spending on diplomacy and defence, and the changing geopolitical situation.

We must seek to deepen co-operation with China, as it emerges as a significant global actor, not just in terms of building economic ties, but also in working together to support and stabilise countries and regions such as Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa where China is developing economic links.

Labour has also been consistent in arguing that our membership of the EU remains central to our prosperity and security. An incoming government in May would need to repair and reset the relationships that David Cameron has damaged with our European partners, and restore Britain’s influence within the EU.

We are clear that the task facing us to make the case for progressive internationalism is significant. Our experiences in Europe over the last century demonstrate that strength at home can contribute to peace abroad. Labour’s vision of an economy that works for working people is needed to achieve prosperity at home, and weaken the attraction of introversion and isolation.

The decline of the UK’s role in the world is not inevitable, and an incoming Labour government would make the case for a progressive and internationalist response to the global challenges we face.

Beyond Aid: Labour’s ambition for a radical development agenda

26 February 2015

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Join the Labour Campaign for International Development for the launch of a new development pamphlet entitled “Beyond Aid: Labour’s ambition for a radical development agenda”

Edited by our Honorary Presidents Glenys Kinnock and Stephen Doughty, the pamphlet draws on expert opinion from different backgrounds and sectors and aims to spark debate about, and offer a renewed ambition for, a radical development agenda and what the UK’s role should be in shaping it.

Join us for a lively and interactive event which aims to challenge the status quo of development thinking in the UK and set the stage for a new era of UK Government. The panel will also feature Mary Riddell from the Telegraph and Dr Jason Hickel from the LSE.

Please note, Parliament can be very busy at this time of day so please aim to arrive at Portcullis House at 6.15pm to ensure you leave enough time to get through security.

Support Fairtrade Fortnight!

25 February 2015

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It’s Fairtrade Fortnight! The Labour and Cooperative movement has a proud history of supporting Fairtrade – we’d encourage everyone to keep buying Fairtrade products, and get involved in Fairtrade Fortnight in the coming days.

In government we supported FAIRTRADE with DFID funding since we created the department in 1997.

Labour believes in the values at the core of FAIRTRADE: that everyone across the globe should receive a fair price for their goods, and a fair wage for their work.

This is why in government we increased the UK’s investment in helping poor countries trade to over £400 million a year.

No country has tackled poverty without increasing trade. In government we promoted trade as a way to help millions out of poverty, raise living standards and increase global prosperity.

But trade can only be successful in this way if it is done right. Our support for FAIRTRADE helped millions of producers get the returns they deserved for their products.

Our support for FAIRTRADE not only led to better deals for small-scale farmers and workers – it also led to more certified plantations for certain products. These companies employ large numbers of workers on estates.

We supported FAIRTRADE as it certified standards for protecting workers’ basic rights – a core part of Labour’s approach to development.

Our support for FAIRTRADE not only empowered farmers and workers, but also consumers – people in the UK should have the right to know whether a product they are buying is ethical or not.

A Labour Approach to Development: LCID’s Manifesto

23 February 2015

In ‘A Labour Approach to Development’ we set out LCID’s manifesto asks ahead of the 2015 election. The document was submitted to the National Policy Forum’s ‘Britain’s Global Role‘ policy consultation last summer.

This ideas contained in this document are our own ideas for what Labour’s internationalist vision should be in the coming years.

What makes us so proud of Labour’s record is not only the amount of money we spent in international aid, as transformative as that was, but the leadership we showed at summit after summit – from our hosting of the G8 and G20 Summits to Ed Miliband’s own herculean efforts staying up all night in Copenhagen to try and secure a global climate deal.

The purpose of this document, therefore, is to propose the ways in which Britain can once again become a global leader and progressive powerhouse under the next Labour Government.

Labour’s proud record of Internationalism

12 February 2015

Inspired by what you’ve seen? Join LCID as a member and together let’s return a Labour government in May!

Say no to tax dodging!

11 February 2015

For too long tax dodging has robbed us of vital funds we need to provide world class public services – and the same is true when companies don’t pay their fair share of tax in developing countries too.

That’s why we’re proud to support the Labour Party’s campaign on tax dodging.

Labour has put tax dodging on the agenda in today’s Opposition Day Debate. Today Labour outlines the steps we want the government to take right now:

  • Close tax loopholes used by hedge funds to avoid stamp duty
  • Clamp down on the abuse of the Eurobond exemption which some companies abuse to move profits out of the UK and avoid Corporation Tax
  • Stop umbrella companies exploiting tax reliefs — reliefs which are designed to help self employed people get on
  • Scrap this government’s ‘shares for rights’ scheme, which will lead to more opportunities for tax dodging

A Labour Government will also press for developing countries to have a seat at the table when global tax rules are being drawn up – so we can stop this scandal robbing people of the funds that could provide life-saving public services wherever they live.

We’ve only got a few hours until the vote. Add your name to our anti-tax dodging petition now, then share it with your friends:

Add my name against tax dodging

Let’s show this government that none of us will not tolerate this exploitation any longer.

Britain in an interconnected and unstable world

9 February 2015

LCID Honorary Vice-President Stephen Doughty MP and Gemma Doyle MP for Policy Network’s Labour Century pamphlet

Britain stands at a crossroads. And in an ever-changing global environment, it is imperative that she is able to respond, adapt and mould herself to today’s geopolitical world.

This new world is increasingly characterised by multilateralism, cooperation and consensus. Yet it also plays host to vitriolic nationalism, the pursuit of power and a growing thirst for terrorism. These dangers destabilise lives in the UK and around the world.

The challenges facing our world and the nature of conflict and global risk prove more dangerous and unpredictable than we could have imagined even four short years ago. There are increasing attacks on civilians by terrorists, cyber-attacks on states and companies, and countries having to grapple with issues not always thought of in terms of defence and security, such as climate change, poverty, migration, food and water shortages, and economic collapse and insecurity. Yet we find ourselves in the UK with a worryingly isolationist government and with a vulnerable and confused international posture lacking strategic direction.

Whilst Britain must ensure it has the correct emphasis, expertise and capabilities to deal with these new threats, traditional conflicts have not been consigned to history. Russia has shown the world that the defence threats of old – annexation of land and military stand-offs – remain just as dangerous. North Korea continues to develop its nuclear capabilities, the civil war in Syria has long since claimed its 100,000th casualty, Iraq threatens imminent collapse and prolonged civil conflict, and Israel and Hamas embark on a new cycle of violence causing unimaginable suffering. So today’s foreign and defence landscape is harder, not easier, to navigate. The mix of policy prescriptions and capabilities we require are multiple and complex, with the need to respond to and, where possible, pre-empt the actions of both state and non-state actors.

David Cameron’s legacy

A Labour Government in 2015 will have to deal with David Cameron’s foreign policy legacy. The Prime Minister, who never took much notice of international affairs to begin with, has found himself challenged and contested on a range of issues – from how to handle an increasingly belligerent Russia, to how to respond to new horrors in the Middle East. Cameron has failed to engage in Europe to deliver reform, as he has been in hock to those on the right-wing of his own party who wish to see Britain exit the EU, and he has not faced up to a public weary of intervention and sceptical about the benefits of international engagement. This has resulted in a failure to grapple with the most salient challenges of the day and diminishing credibility in the eyes of our key partners.

The Prime Minister’s resistance to the siren voices who wish to see Britain’s international aid budget cut are welcome. However, this has nevertheless been undermined by an abject failure to show the kind of personal leadership and commitment of the Blair and Brown years to tackle poverty and injustice. Aid is now seen as the default response to any international crisis, whatever it may be.

Britain’s place in the world

As a Parliament and an aspirant Labour Government we need to be honest and frank with the people of Britain. There is no getting away from the increasingly interconnected and worryingly volatile world in which we find ourselves. There are hard choices to be made, but creativity in how we deploy our overseas and domestic resources and a renewed engagement with the international community could pay dividends.

Our defence capabilities cannot be compromised in a world where such dangers exist. The Coalition Government made a fundamental error, in their 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), to prioritise balancing the budget over strategic direction and national security. This had disastrous consequences and should not be allowed to happen again.

It is possible to make clear, strategic choices about Britain’s capabilities and to be fiscally responsible. These are not mutually exclusive. The current shambles, overseen by the Ministry of Defence, is an example of what happens when these priorities are not balanced correctly. In recent months, the UK’s Regular Forces have greatly reduced in number while recruitment to Reserve Forces continues to lag far behind, leaving Britain with a dangerous gap in its military capability.

With old and new threats continuing to emerge and evolve, Britain has an important role to play as a protector, not just of her own people, but also of those around the world. This is often a contentious argument: why should we spend our money on protecting citizens of other countries? But in an interconnected world, when populations elsewhere are at risk, then so too are we.

Regional conflicts, global consequences

Fragile and conflict-affected states provide an environment in which organised crime, corruption and terrorism can flourish. This undermines efforts to promote democracy, good governance and economic sustainability, and affects countries around the world. Few would have thought the far away activities of Islamic extremists in small villages across the Durand line would have anything to do with terror on the streets of New York; nor was it possible to foresee that the corruption and wanton human rights abuses of Ukraine’s former Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, would have had dreadful consequences.

Anyone who dismissed the need for NATO, or for a thoughtful and engaged EU-neighbourhood policy, or for a strategic diplomacy and defence posture in Europe has been disproven by these recent events.

This has been highlighted in recent months by the implications of hundreds of young British men and women who have travelled to fight in a bloody and terrible war in Syria, and the extremist ideology and intentions that they will bring with them upon their return to Britain. Tragically, in some months of this year more Brits went to Syria to fight than joined the UK’s Army Reserve. There is no starker failure of our foreign and defence policy.

Deciding when to act

It is inherent in our Labour Party values to seek dialogue between peoples, peaceful resolution of conflict, and to uphold human rights and social justice for the poor and marginalised. We believe in justice and opportunity for all, not just charity. We are the Party who created the Department for International Development, who signed into law the International Development Act, and who committed ourselves to meeting the Millennium Development Goals agreed by world leaders at the UN in 2000. We believe that we achieve more together than we achieve alone. And we also recognise that we must keenly learn from the errors of the past about when and how to act. We are not the Party who sits back and watches from the sidelines, and we are not the Party who can see wrong being done and do nothing.

That doesn’t mean we always get it right. You can have the best experts, intelligence and equipment and yet it is not possible to know the consequences of every decision. We must be considerate in our actions and convinced of the merits of stepping in. We must learn the lessons of the past, but we must also be prepared to make the case for intervening when it is viable and the right thing to do. An international conflict where lives are at risk should never represent an opportunity for party politics. And whilst Parliament should be consulted whenever possible, in some cases that will not be feasible and government must be able to act as it deems necessary.

History can teach us many things and one lesson is that there are times when it is necessary for Britain to take military action to protect the lives of others. This is not imperialism – it is not the flexing of our military muscle for show. It is an unequivocal commitment to lessen the harm done to others. We did not act in Rwanda and we were too slow to act in the Balkans. In the future we should be confident that where there is a just cause, there is reason to act. We must ensure that our mission is feasible, and we should always seek international support from our friends around the globe. Above all we should remember that there are consequences of action, whether they be diplomatic, military or humanitarian, but there are also consequences of inaction.

An increased focus on prevention and joining up the work of the Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is essential to build a safer world and to reduce the difficult choices that we will undoubtedly continue to face in the next Parliament and beyond.

The world remains a dangerous and volatile place. It is a world that requires leadership, resolve, moral purpose and unity between nations in tackling threats to our national security, such as organised crime and climate change. A One Nation Labour Government in 2015 must show leadership and uphold our values in the world. This matters more than ever for the people of our country and is in the common and moral interest of peoples elsewhere.

While we all aspire for a just and moral world, this is rarely achieved by hope alone. An ill-equipped, vacillating and ‘go it alone’ Britain will have a very limited ability to ensure that this vision is realised and to mitigate the repercussions of any missteps.

If we are able to make the world a better place then we should do so. We should work for international peace and protection, to strive for the safety and security of our citizens and for our international neighbours too. We should commit ourselves to the endless pursuit of the eradication of global poverty and the improvement of peoples’ lives across the globe.

The world is still a fragile and dangerous place, but Britain can work to make it better and, in some ways, we are uniquely placed to do so.

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