Robert Tyler is a Project Manager for the Alliance of Conservatives & Reformists in Europe.
With Brexit negotiations set to end in December we will once again be out in the world. Already, throughout this current crisis, the Government has shown global leadership – in particular when it comes to the ongoing crisis in Hong Kong.
However, to be a truly ‘Global Britain’ we must be much more ambitious.
In order to establish ourselves we need to make our foreign policy aims clearer. Since the end of the Cold War, British foreign policy has been confusing and almost aimless. Whilst we have won many major international successes in the field of human rights and international development, we have lacked a coherent foreign policy.
The announcement recently that the Department for International Development is set to return to the Foreign Office is a step in the right direction. However, we as Conservatives must also first establish what it is that we believe we should be doing on the world stage. The debate on foreign policy needs to start at hom,e and with us working out what we as a Party have to offer.
The obvious answer is that as conservatives we should be promoting our beliefs, free markets, representative democracy, the rule of law, robust institutions, strong defence, and the rights of individuals – especially in the developing world where we are likely to need allies in the future.
It’s with that in mind the next question is; how best to spread our values? The answer is right in front of us. We need to reform and build on existing structures.
Every year, UK political parties receive a grant from a little-known quango – the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). The WFD was founded in 1992, is directly accountable to Parliament, and has a dedicated budget of around £11 million for political parties.
The Conservatives, Labour, SNP, and a ‘mixed group’ of the rest, all receive money for supporting the promotion of democracy around the world. This can range from encouraging more women to participate in elections to offering training for political parties. In 2018 the ‘International Department of the Conservative Party’ was involved in projects building infrastructure for centre-right political parties and supporting work to end violence against women. All great work to be commended.
However, this is only a start. Because of the way the Conservative Party is currently structured it isn’t able to do more.
The way round this is to copy the Americans and Europeans. Instead of directly funding the political parties, we should instead finance new ‘foundations’ affiliated and accountable to the parties. That is to say, instead of directly funding the Conservative Party, we should use the money for a ‘Churchill Foundation for Peace’ or ‘Thatcher Foundation for Democracy’.
This model already has a proven track record abroad. The Republicans have the ‘International Republic Institute’ (IRI), which was founded by Ronald Reagan in 1983 and is directly funded by the ‘National Endowment for Democracy’ (NED). IRI has a proven track record of delivering in the field of democracy-building and supporting centre-right political movements. Towards the end of the Cold War, IRI was engaged in Eastern Europe helping to build new centre-right political parties and movements that have consigned Communism to history. Many are still in power today.
Equally in Germany, Angela Merkle’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU) have the ‘Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’, a political foundation that receives funding from the German Bundestag based on the number of MPs. It’s purpose has been the spread of Christian Democracy. The success of KDS has coincided with the success of Germany in being at the heart of the EU. Every capitol in Central and Eastern Europe has a branch of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, working behind the scenes to support centre-right governments and spread pro-European values.
The Conservative Party needs to compete: we are wasting an opportunity to help shape global politics in our image. And whilst we share similar values with both the Republicans and the CDU, we have an older and prouder conservative tradition that we should be sharing.
Some may ask, ‘what’s the point of this exercise? Is this not just a waste of taxpayer money?’. And whilst that may on the surface seem like a fair criticism, the reality is that the return is great on a relatively small investment. Our generosity in supporting burgeoning democratic movements won’t soon be forgotten.
China, Russia, and Iran are all spreading their influence where they can, and using soft power as a means of winning over support in places such as the UN, OSCE and WTO. Because of China’s aggressive public relations and investment campaigns, they have been able to create a smoke screen for themselves that has prevented us from challenging them at the UN over human rights abuses.
Offering substantial support to conservative and democratic movements around the world could go a long way to loosening the grip of our enemies.
Having spent the last four years working on the European level of politics, I have seen first-hand the influence wielded by the German establishment through the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Europe. We need to seize the opportunity to present our alternative abroad.
The political foundations of other centre-right governments around the world wield significant influence and are powerful tools for foreign policy. The Conservative Party should not miss out on such an opportunity.