On One Nation Internationalism

YF Internationalism Launch Event

Over the past few years, international issues have taken a backseat to more pressing domestic issues. Even despite a strong tradition within the Party, the idea of internationalism as a key pillar of “One Nation Labour” is often met with mystified doubt.

This is why the Ideas Series project on Internationalism has the potential to be one of the more interesting explorations of the ideas and principles that underpin a Labour approach to governing in 2015. The launch of the project on April 30 aimed to explore some of the challenging issues that comprise internationalism and involve members in setting the direction of the project. Taking in a wide range of topics and perspectives, the event produced an impressive and lively debate amongst members.

We were very lucky to have Lord Jack McConnell provide some opening remarks to kick off the event. Jack said:

"We are suffering a crisis of ideas in Europe on the centre-left. This extends to our vision of how to shape the world, the role of the Labour Party in the international arena and through a lack of direction of leadership."

Jack proposed that this is a result of there being broad consensus on many of the issues espoused by the left, the rise of the Right in Europe, a reaction to the Third Way and questions over Iraq, and finally a failure of international climate change negotiations.

Second, Jack traced the trajectory of the Labour Party over the past few decades. He observed that in order to meet our desire to be in Government, and thus make international change, we need to be seen to be putting Britain’s interest first (to look strong). However this approach will also often come into conflict with our values of tackling inequality, global solidarity and the need to make a difference overseas as well as in the UK. We have taken difference approaches to getting the balance right between promoting Britain’s interested and pursuing our core values, but we are now facing a dilemma in the post-Iraq era and urgently need to find a new direction.

Jack’s third point was that these problems and the need to deal with international issues as they affect the domestic are important. He outlined our three major global challenges: (1) Economic inequality and building a new global economic system; (2) The broad range of environmental changes affecting us including urbanisation, changing population dynamics, migration and climate change; and (3) Inequality, particularly relating to conflict and development. All of these issues require action and answers, but unfortunately the debate has gone astray. The EU is struggling to find a voice in the world and the UN is largely unfit for purpose.

Finally, Jack’s most emphatic point was that it is fantastic that the Young Fabians are providing a forum for this type of debate. This is desperately needed within the Party – looking to the future on our role in the world and creating a long-term narrative and vision.

A number of questions were raised on what a reformed UN would look like; the future of the EU; how we reconcile our values with the forces of globalisation; how we engage with and harness the Commonwealth network; our commitment to foreign aid; how we turn soft power into hard power; and the future of our special relationship with the US.

Jack’s overarching messages included:

  • There is a serious need to debate with ourselves, create controversy and challenge the values of the Right. We need clarity of purpose, to have debates within the Party and be bold. We need to take on the difficult questions. 
  • The UK is in an extremely unique position with its association to numerous multilateral organisations to contribute to global discussion and action to create a fairer world. 
  • We can benefit and be successful from globalisation.

The event then included broad discussion with participants to help determine the direction of the project and what would be covered in the final paper. A number of themes arose from the discussion:

Who do we work with?

  • There was a broad question about who, in a multi-polar and globalised world where we are seemingly dependent on everyone, we chose to work with and on what. 
  • Of the international institutions, which are most effective to engage with – the future role of Europe and the Commonwealth and how we work through them and to what end. 
  • A good point was also raised that internationalism assumes nation-to-nation interaction, but there are now a plethora of actors involved in determining our reputation abroad, engaging with governments, playing a role in development including civil society and private sector, diaspora – what role do they have to play? How do we engage with them?

How interventionist do we want to be?
The group discussed the fallout over Iraq, how that has affected decisions made over Syria, and the lack of serious discussion about what we do in future. Making the case for types of early intervention – developmental, diplomatic and military – were discussed as a cost-effective approach, but the notion of an ethical foreign policy as a frame was largely questioned as unrealistic.

How to make it relevant to the doorstep?

  • The project also has the potential to explore how we link outward international engagement to public awareness in the UK. We discussed how you make the case for international issues and had a significant discussion over the future and best approach to aid and development as a result of media and public hostility to the budget. 
  • We discussed what alternative frameworks could be used to encourage people to think and act more internationally and discussed a need for a populist rhetoric with more information – particularly on issues like our future in Europe or our commitment to aid and development. 
  • The efficacy of appealing to emotions or using facts to win over voters was discussed – with neither approach providing a full solution.

How can Labour distinguish itself?
A commitment to international solidarity sets the Labour Party apart, so the Labour Party’s role in how we manage our relationships with other countries and our capacity to help was raised.

Most impressive of all was the desire amongst participants to keep the conversation going. Please visit our webpage and join our Facebook Group for updates and if you would like to host your own informal discussion on any of the issues raised at the event, do not hesitate to contact Jessica or Isaac.

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