What price an ethical foreign policy?
Today sees Mr Brown in China trying to act as a super salesman for British business. It is a relatively harmless use of his time, forced upon him by the dire straits of the UK economy under his policies.
Mr Brown has debauched the strong economy he inherited. His first couple of years wisely continued Conservative spending plans and repaid public debt, but elsewhere the long march of this government to a malfunctioning socialist economy had begun. The undermining of the Bank of England proved to be a long fuse to the explosive Northern Rock crisis. The taxation of pension funds began the route march to most people no longer having the benefit of a final salary scheme, whilst burdening too many companies with large deficits to repay.
Worse followed after 2001 when Mr Brown embarked on an irresponsible twin track ?? easy money, and massive spending increases on public services. Because he wrongly saw all public spending as ??investment?? and felt large sums were proof of better service, he failed to ask the obvious question ??What am I buying for all this cash??? The answer turns out to be a whole load of extra civil servants, spin doctors, consultancy contracts, pay awards, quangos and regulators.
Ten years on the UK is one of the world leaders for twin deficits ?? a record balance of payments deficit, and a large government borrowing requirement. Alarmed by the record deficits on the balance of trade figures which he used to pour over to harry the Conservatives when in government, he decided on a trip to China. It is a sign of his desperation that he feels the need to act as pied piper to the British business community to sell more there, and to see the need to ask the Chinese government for more Chinese funds to be invested in the UK. He is right we require the money, to pay for our double deficits.
When the Labour government first came into office its then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook claimed they would run an ethical foreign policy. The phrase was chosen to imply that all previous UK foreign policies had been other than ethical. The Labour knight was to wear the purest white, and would charge into world Councils with morality as the billowing pennant on the lance.
Today that seems a very long time ago. We look back on the invasion of Iraq, the continuing fighting in Afghanistan, the lack of any action over Zimbabwe, the skirting round North Korea, the inconsistent approach to other countries gaining nuclear weapons and the erratic response to human rights abuses and have to ask what ethical or moral stance now lies behind these actions? Arent they all driven by media, by events, by US pressure, by EU argument, by a growing sense in the present Foreign Office that there are many obvious limits to British power?
Worse still, when many want Mr Brown to raise Chinas human rights record as the central issue whilst there is still a window of opportunity before the Olympics, many of us are embarrassed to say this when we look at the deteriorating record of human rights in our own country. Now the UK wants to have the western record for detention without trial or charge, seeks to stifle public opinion by ratting on the promise of a referendum, spends a fortune on clumsy physical ??security?? at so many places and events, treats travellers like suspects or criminals and intensifies the range of thought crimes that preoccupy the elite, we are no longer in a good position to lecture China even if we wanted to.
Mr Browns visit recognises the reality of the new world order. China is emerging as a superpower, with a fast growing economy, a large population, and a wish to project its power. When a country has more than $1 trillion in the bank it is difficult to argue with it, especially when our country has been newly impoverished by Mr Browns policies. He sold our gold holdings for a fraction of its current market value, ransacked our long term savings, failed to stop a run on a British bank and now needs to go cap in hand to China to seek inward investment to the UK. These are sorry times for our country. They have been brought on by incompetent stewardship of our money. It is humiliating to see our Prime Minister ask for sovereign wealth fund money from China to keep us afloat. If he really wanted to improve the UK economy he should have stayed at home, working on how to get more value from his public spending, and how he could curb spending so we do not need to borrow so much.