Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Strange Return of the Ethical Dimension

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Strange Return of the Ethical Dimension

Article excerpt

The PM seems to have adopted a vision for which Robin Cook was once derided.

Compare this: "Britain will once again be a force for good in the world. Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other people for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves."

With this: "The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan: they, too, are our cause. This is a moment to seize... let us reorder this world around us."

The first was lampooned for its hubris. The second was hailed as his finest hour. The first belonged to Robin Cook, May 1997; the second was Tony Blair, October 2001.

Blair showed little interest in foreign affairs when he was in opposition. As soon as he entered Downing Street, his closest aides persuaded him that Cook's approach was a non-starter. Each initiative on curbing arms exports was watered down or quashed, amid considerable private and not-so-private derision from the Prime Minister's office.

Gradually, foreign policy under this government reverted to type. Human rights abuses were brought up with other leaders only when it was in Britain's interests to do so. Even before the 1997 election, Blair and Gordon Brown had watered down Labour's pledge to bring spending on international development up to the UN target of 0.7 percent of gross national product- the equivalent of a couple of botched PFI hospital projects. Until now, Blair has not seen anything immoral in wealth disparities abroad and at home (pace his News-night interview during this year's general election campaign). More important for him is equal access to wealth creation.

The paucity of that vision has come back to haunt us. …

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