UK Election: Tories vs Labour – how do they compare on foreign policy?

Image: Pixabay

December 12 is fast approaching. Within a few weeks, Britain heads to the polls.

While the future is never certain, few at this point would argue that the Conservatives are not the current frontrunners to win the most seats in the election.

While the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party boasted strong polling numbers earlier in the year, the election has drifted back into being a two horse race between Boris Johnson’s Tory Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

Now that all of the manifestos of the major parties have been published, pundits have been all too eager to scrutinise and compare the policy proposals.

When it comes to foreign policy, the Conservative manifesto endeavours to paint an image of a global Britain with strength and authority, lining up with the law and order narrative seen in many of its domestic policy proposals.

Lines in this chapter make a point of portraying Labour and Jeremy Corbyn as Britain-hating threats to national security and the UK’s standing on the global stage.

The Labour manifesto, on the other hand, attempts to present a foreign policy based on social justice, slamming the Conservatives as having failed on issues such as failing to adequately support the armed forces and backing disastrous military interventions over their nine years in office.

The election has been characterised by many as a contest in who can outspend the other, and foreign policy seems to be no exception. Both parties commit to the NATO annual defence spending target of 2 per cent of GDP, with the Tories further pledging to exceed it.

The two parties also make predictable declarations for support of global human rights, albeit with varying degrees of detail.

The Conservative manifesto makes note of a number of these issues, asserting that it will help end modern slavery, promote the right to girls’ education, and support media freedom among other noble causes.

However, few concrete policy proposals are made to recommend solutions. There is a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on development, but details on human rights policy is sparse.

Its use of the abolition of the slave trade as an example of a Britain championing international liberty is bound to make even the humblest student of colonial history roll their eyes skyward.

Conversely, Labour’s manifesto makes steps towards acknowledging British colonialism’s horrific past. It pledges to issue a formal apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and hold a public review into Britain’s role in the atrocity.

One key issue on which Labour focuses – and the Tory manifesto neglects entirely – is the issue of arms sales.

Redaction Politics previously discussed the horrors brought upon the people of Yemen by the Saudi intervention and the UK’s role in providing the weapons used to perpetrate this humanitarian crisis.

In 2017, the Labour Party pledged to suspend these arms sales, while the Conservatives made no such commitment.

The same has happened again.

Labour not only plans to end arms sales to Saudis for use in Yemen, but also to Israel for use in the Palestinian territories.

The situation in the Yemen is one of the world’s worst current humanitarian crises, with millions facing famine at the hands of the Saudis. 

In the Conservative manifesto, however, no mention of ceasing arms sales is made.

Foreign policy is by no means the only topic on which this election is being fought, and nor should it be.

However, voters should consider carefully what vision Britain’s next Prime Minister will have for the UK’s place in the world, especially in an era where Brexit is increasingly eroding its status as a great power.

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