Douglas Alexander – 2013 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, to the 2013 Labour Party conference in Brighton.


Conference – This has been an important debate. And it takes place after an extraordinary year for our country’s Foreign Policy.

Across the Middle East we see a region engulfed by turmoil.

In Syria a hundred thousand have been killed. Millions displaced. A nation state is melting away before our eyes.

And then last month the latest horrific chemical attack took place in Damascus

The Prime Minister announced the recall of Parliament and a Commons motion was drafted authorising British military intervention in Syria.

The UN weapons inspectors had not completed their work. The UN Secretary General was pleading for more time. And the UN Security Council was to be effectively bypassed.

Yet here the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister seemed determined to rush to military action on a timetable agreed elsewhere.

It fell to our leader, Labour’s Leader, Ed Miliband, to speak for the nation.

He upheld a basic principle: that the evidence should precede the decision, not the decision precede the evidence.

And together we set out a ‘roadmap for decision’: a clear set of tests and conditions by which our nation should reach a decision of such consequence.

Conference, it was Labour’s leadership that prevented a rush to military action on a timetable set elsewhere, without the necessary steps being taken and without due process being followed.

We have learned the lessons of the past. Intervening immediately and asking hard questions later would have ill served our country.

As Labour, we are prepared to support force where we must – as we did in Libya two years ago – but we should support diplomacy where we can.

Now, thankfully, a new diplomatic path is open to eradicate chemical weapons in Syria – in part due to Westminster’s vote.

So in the months ahead we must pursue diplomacy without illusions.

The task now is to ensure that new humanitarian efforts are made, and new diplomatic efforts are taken to get the warring parties around the table, and to end the suffering.

Now some have claimed that the Syria vote means Britain has turned its back on the world. Certainly, people across Britain are weary of conflict.

A decade of brave service by our troops in Afghanistan is drawing to a close.

And of course our economy is fragile.

But that vote told us much more about the competence of this government than it did about the character of our country.

Neither knee jerk interventionism or knee jerk isolationism is the right course for Britain in the 21st century.

It is in our national interest to upload an international rules based order.

And our country is strongest when we work with partners and allies in pursuit of shared goals.

Many on the UKIP right – whether within or out with the Conservative party – have reverted to isolationism, we know that.

So as progressive internationalists we must and will reject the isolationism that expresses itself in an anti-Europe, anti-immigrate, anti foreign aid, stop-the-world-we-want-to-get-off type of politics.

We will oppose that politics wherever we find it.

We understand that as a country we face challenges – from financial contagion to climate change to nuclear threat and conflict – that spill across borders and defy unilateral solutions.

And only a progressive internationalism can answer that call.

For Britain to now try and retreat from the world would be as foolish as it would be futile.

And that Conference is why Britain’s continued membership of the EU matters so much.

The Eurosceptic fantasy of Britain as a North Atlantic Singapore is just that – it is a fantasy.

British jobs, British exports and British influence in the world all benefit from Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.

Our economy is strengthened, our interests are advanced, and our voice is heard louder on the world stage as part of the European Union.

And that is why under Ed’s leadership, we will argue for reform in Europe, not exit from Europe.

So Conference, the real problem for the Conservatives on foreign policy isn’t the Prime Minister’s incompetence – evident though that is – it isn’t even the rise of isolationism on their backbenches – evident those that is as well.

It is that these Conservatives are in hoc to an idea – an imperial delusion – that is out of balance, and out of step, with the modern world.

They believe that as America pivots towards Asia and the Eurozone consolidates, Britain should simply focus on its own business.

They don’t understand that there is nothing splendid about isolation in the 21st century.

And they don’t understand that Britain is strongest when we work alongside our partners.

Britain stood shoulder to shoulder with our NATO allies against the Soviet Union.

Britain led the development of the single market across Europe.

Britain helped create the United Nations.

Now is the time for a new era of international cooperation.

It is time to lead reforms of Europe and its institutions.

It’s time to strengthen NATO to better coordinate our capabilities amidst tight budgets.

It’s time to deepen our partnerships with Asia, as economic power moves east.

We need that cooperation and that engagement, because “you are on your own” is as hopeless an idea in foreign policy as it is in domestic policy.

Sadly, the Conservatives just don’t get it.

They have weakened our economy at home and they have weakened our influence abroad.

This is a government that deserves to loose.

Defeating this government is our shared responsibility and working together it can be shared achievement.

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