02 June 2007

Reflecting on Blair's Reflections

The Economist: Tony Blair reflects on the lessons of his decade as Britain's prime minister"In this age, foreign policy is not an interesting distraction from the hard slog of domestic reform. It is the element that describes a nation's face to the world at large, forms the perceptions of others to it and, in part, its perception of itself."

Those who know me will know that I have long held that the next generation of politicians need to possess a far greater knowledge and experience of international affairs. Two of my favourite quotes are Michael Portillo's "Today’s politicians are amateurs who turn to foreign affairs only late in their careers" (The Sunday Times, 1 August 2004) and Alan Duncan's "Why are we talking so little of foreign affairs and social cohesion?" (18 July 2005)

I am therefore delighted to read that Tony Blair has now realised the central role of foreign policy in this country's future. It's just a pity that his Government is still not acting upon his reflections:

1. Be a player not a spectator

"There is no international debate of importance in which we are not as fully engaged as we can be... And the agenda constructed should be about our values—freedom, democracy, responsibility to others, but also justice and fairness."

Like we're not doing in places like Zimbabwe, Sudan, Somalia, and across the developing world.

2. Transatlantic co-operation is still vital

"Europe and America share the same values. We should stick together. That requires a strong transatlantic alliance. It also means a strong, effective and capable EU. A weak Europe is a poor ally."

So why have we not done more to defend our special relationship with America or more to limit the European Union's anti-American policies?

3. Be very clear about global terrorism

"Revolutionary communism took many forms. It chose unlikely bedfellows. But we still spent decades confronting it. This new terrorism has an ideology."

Yes! Islamism is ideological. So let's start having an intelligent debate at the level of ideas, without making accusations of racism or islamophobia and without allowing the terrorists to exploit our democratic rights and freedoms to achieve their destructive ends.

4. We must stand up for our values

"We are faced with a challenge derived from a world view. We need our own world view, no less comprehensive but based on the decent values we believe in."

Indeed, so why are we not standing up for those values when it comes to China, Burma, Central Asia, or Zimbabwe?

5. It's about tomorrow's agenda too

"We need a sufficiently strong basis, founded in a clear and even-handed commitment to our values, for the world as it changes to adopt these values, universal as they are, to guide us."

Right, so it would help if we didn't constantly undermine those values, either domestically or internationally, and if we knew what it meant to stand for them.

As Blair concludes, over to you...