Academic journal article Global Governance

Spinderella on Safari: British Policies toward Africa under New Labour

Academic journal article Global Governance

Spinderella on Safari: British Policies toward Africa under New Labour

Article excerpt

Under New Labour, the British government was claimed to be operating under guidelines that sought to have an ethical dimension to British foreign policy. A particular focus of New Labour's foreign policy, rhetorically at least, was Africa. During this period, London sought to bring the G8 in line with London's claimed policies vis-a-vis the continent. However, upon closer analysis, vocal flourishes and presentations aside, policy was never adequately supported by, and in many respects was contradicted by, much of what Blair's government actually did in relation to Africa. The disparity between the high-profile media presentation of policy and what was actually delivered by Blair and company in Africa reflected a wider problem in the British polity that New Labour and its spin doctors came to symbolize. KEYWORDS: Africa, Tony Blair, United Kingdom, New Labour.

IN 2005, GREAT BRITAIN HOSTED THE GROUP OF 8 (G8) SUMMIT AT Gleneagles, Scotland. In the immediate run-up to the summit and afterward, a great deal of effort was ostensibly (and ostentatiously) expended by the Tony Blair government's focus on Africa. While New Labour's stance on Africa before, during, and after the Gleneagles summit was often portrayed as emblematic of London's new tilt toward an "ethical" foreign policy, the G8 flourish was never adequately supported by, and in many respects was contradicted by, most of what Blair's government actually did in relation to the continent. The disparity between the high-profile media presentation of policy and what was actually delivered by Blair and company in Africa reflected a wider problem in the British polity that New Labour and its spin doctors came to represent. In discussing how British policy toward Africa played out under Blair and how the G8 was drawn into the process, I will bring the contours of contemporary British political life into sharp focus.

Great Britain and Africa: A Problem Best Avoided

In contrast with other former colonial powers (notably France), for a relatively extended period, Britain showed limited interest in postdecolonization Africa. Rather, as Paul Williams suggested, British policy sought to "turn its imperial legacies from liabilities into assets," (1) and perceived the continent principally as a "source of trouble rather than an opportunity." (2) Under New Labour (1997-2010), however, there was a relative prioritization of the continent in official British foreign policy. Indeed, under Blair and, to a lesser extent, his successor Gordon Brown, New Labour formally elevated Africa to a major policy concern for London. Much of this was personality driven, with Blair being the most media-obsessed leader Britain had had in modern times. Projecting himself as a personal savior of Africa came, for a time, to be a core on-message for London. However, when one examines the results of this policy rather than the rhetoric, it seems apparent that New Labour's Africa policies largely continued on the same path as previous governments, preserving a "calculating eye to the national interest and Britain's international reputation." (3) In order to come to this conclusion, I will discuss the main features of New Labour's Africa policies and contrast the substantial media spin that accompanied almost everything that Blair and his government did, then follow with an evaluation of the results and subsequent legacy.

New Labour and Media Presentation

A defining characteristic of New Labour was a strong focus on presentation and the careful control of the public representation of policy--in colloquial terms, "spin." Early on, the customarily Blair-approving Independent newspaper depicted New Labour as "Spinderella: A People's Pantomime in Two Acts." (4) Without doubt, under New Labour, "public statements [were] no longer fact-based, but operational. Realities and political narratives [were] constructed to serve a purpose, dismantled, and the show move[d] on. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.