Emily Thornberry is setting out her stall as the would-be Foreign Secretary today with a speech to the Institute for Government.
There are some signs that she is trying to establish a bit of distance between herself and her leader’s willingness to overlook and excuse human rights abuses committed by people he finds ideologically convenient. Indeed, the Guardian reports that she will make the message quite explicit, saying:
“…under a Labour Foreign Office, I can also guarantee there will be no indulgence of human rights abuses because they are committed by less powerful countries, or by governments who call themselves ‘socialist’ but who, by their actions, betray every socialist ideal.”
Cough cough, Venezuela.
In an article in the Times, Thornberry casts her approach to foreign policy as prioritising ‘British values’ rather than the promotion of trade:
‘…the exclusive focus on the promotion of trade is forcing the Foreign Office to set aside its equally important historic responsibility to promote British values, including urging every other country — friend or foe, trading partner or not — to respect human rights, basic freedoms and the rule of law.’
As it happens, I tend to agree with her that these values, fundamental principles of freedom, ought to underpin our foreign policy. If anything, I’d go further and argue they are also key to sustainable long-term trade, too – free democracies grow better and longer, and collapse into anarchy far more rarely, than tyrannies, and so prove to be better trading partners as well as morally preferable.
The problem she has is that the policy she proposes cannot be “guaranteed” by her alone. It would need the full and active support of the Prime Minister of that hypothetical Labour government, and of his senior colleagues and advisers. That’s Jeremy Corbyn, the very man whose indulgence of human rights abusing tyrants she feels it necessary to make a speech distancing herself from, and advisers like Seumas Milne, who appears to find it rather too easy to overlook the bodycount of anyone claiming to be an anti-imperialist.
The Shadow Foreign Secretary might pledge “no indulgence of human rights abuses” by states perceived to be underdogs or socialists, but her leader is indulging exactly such an abusive government in Venezuela right now. He has previously indulged such abusers around the world, and has even worked for the propaganda arm of just such a state, namely Iran. She knows this, or else she wouldn’t feel it necessary to pitch her speech as she does.
By all means offer a foreign policy based on fundamental values of liberty, decency and democracy. But there is no reason to believe it until you pair it with a leader who agrees.