“We will ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries. These undermine community cohesion.”
The Conservative Manifesto doesn’t name the foreign countries that may have crossed its authors’ minds. Or rather, the foreign country. Namely, Israel.
This is the latest turning of the Tory screw against the Boycott, Disinvest and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The Government has previously published procurement guidance against such boycotts. Following a consultation on updating it, the manifesto now proposes a Bill to provide “a far firmer statutory basis”.
Let us set out a snapshot summary of the case for and the case against:
Case for: foreign policy is none of local authorities’ or other public bodies business; taxpayers’ shouldn’t have to pay for it more than once; divestment can lead to lower returns; BDS legitimises anti-semitism; its campaign fuels hatred and division.
Case against: this is ultimately a free speech issue; in any event, localism should apply; divestment doesn’t necessarily lead to lower returns, and there’s a principle at stake in any event; the BDS campaign is anti-Zionist, not anti-semitic.
Although the Government plans to introduce a Bill, it doesn’t intend to make the use of BDS by public bodies a criminal offence. Rather, they will be subject to judicial review if they don’t follow the guidance.
We are on balance in favour of this move, though there is a clearly a localist case for leaving well alone.
There is one implication of it that is clearly regrettable: namely, the division of foreign policy along communalist lines, with the Conservatives emerging as a pro-Israel and pro-India party, and the Labour as a pro-Palestinian and pro-Pakistan one. It is best for the main parties to share the same broad approach to foreign affairs.
But it can scarcely be claimed that this initiative started that process, of which the main driver is now Labour’s institutional anti-semitism, which is now subject to formal investigation.