Facing the Future: the missing international question

A combination of meetings and media mean I cannot make it into the hall later this morning for the debate on the party’s Facing the Future policy consultation. It is a document setting out the broad questions (sixty-two in all, though Q59 bears a striking resemblance to Q53) intended to shape the party’s future policy development. Had I been able to make it, this is the necessarily brief speech I would have wanted to give about the last three in the document, on international affairs.

There are two near certainties about any broad policy review such as this one.

First, its title will be uncontroversial and instantly forgettable: Ignoring the Future, Moving Backwards, The Next Moves Sideways and Avoid The Challenge, Dodge The Change never quite make it as titles.

Second, the need to boil down the whole range of party policy to a set of strategic questions means the debate sees a sequence of people saying how much they like the paper, but there is just one thing they want to add…

I plead guilty to edging close to that pattern. But before that I would like to say how good it is to see how frequently there are mentions of the changes which technology is bringing to our economy, our society and our politics. That is a welcome and refreshing change from their almost complete absence in this May’s otherwise very strong general election manifesto.

The international affairs section, tucked in at the end, however leaves me less impressed. The special relationship with the US. The legacy of empire and the hanging on of the Commonwealth. Our record of fighting alongside the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our special status in many international institutions. All these are crucial to our role in the world and how others see us.

Deciding what our role should be in the world, and how to work to make others judge us as we wish to be judged, should be central to our consideration of international affairs. Yet that question is not directly addressed.

So when the policy working group fleshes out issues that have been debated in the paper and draws up its plans for the detailed work of the policy review, I hope it will put that consideration of our role in the world at the centre of the international affairs work.

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