Peter Mandelson – 2008 Foresight Public Debate Speech

Below is the text of the speech given on November 6th 2008 by Peter Mandelson.

Barack Obama’s victory is one of the most exciting moments of my political and public life. It is a once in a generation opportunity for progressive ideals and my kind of social democratic and internationalist politics.

When he comes to office, Mr Obama will face the challenges of war and climate change, as well as economic turmoil. He has been forthright on his policies in the first two and we look forward to working closely with him on the last.

In Britain I’m well known to be a strong pro European. But I’ve always been a strong pro American as well. I believe America at its best shares my – and European – values of democracy, personal freedom and opportunity for all. These values do not always equate to the right policies. But America has an extraordinary capacity to renew itself, to address its weaknesses, come to terms with its past and make change happen.

Most comment has focussed on the historic significance of the election of a black President for a society once so scarred by racial discrimination and prejudice – and the extraordinary signal this sends to people across the world about what America stands for. In recent years, there has been an evolution in American policy on a number of the important issues facing the world, so Mr Obama has a strong platform for launching a new drive for progressive world leadership. In my lifetime, I have not known a time when this leadership is more needed.

Because of this, there is also a great opportunity for Europe. We don’t compete. We need a partner, to work together to solve the global economic crisis, tackle climate change and meet the other pressing global challenges of poverty and development. The US and EU cannot, by themselves, make these happen. But we are indispensable to them being achieved. Only by the EU and US collaborating is there any chance of creating a stable and secure multilateral order.

However I want to underline three caveats:

First, in the global age Europe – and that includes Britain – cannot claim an exclusive relationship with an Obama Washington. The world has turned. To solve the global economic crisis, we have to bring in the new powerhouses of the world as equal partners. To tackle climate change we have to strike a deal with China and India. To sustain free trade and the beneficial forces of globalisation, we have to develop a new, progressive economics that embraces both the developed and emerging nations of the world.

Second, to be a credible partner, Europe has to step up to the table. We have shown leadership on climate change: we now have to deliver on our national commitments. In peace keeping and peace enforcement, we have to make the bigger contribution as European nations that I believe Barack Obama will expect. On trade and economics, we have to sustain an open Single Market at home and openness abroad. Half measures or half hearted ambivalence will not do. Because of the seriousness of the challenges we face, the demands on us are great.

Third, we need to work with Barack Obama to defeat those forces inside America that will try to hold him back. These include isolationists and protectionists and on Capitol Hill these forces are strongly featured in the Democratic Party itself – stronger still after some of Tuesday’s victories.

The only way forward for the United States and for the world is if America thinks globally. Yet more trade barriers, for example, are not the answer. Instead, the new Administration will have to defeat isolationists by developing a new progressive social model for the United States. This needs to emulate the best of Europe’s Social Model, helping working people more effectively through difficult economic adjustments, providing universal cost-effective healthcare and enabling youngsters to go to college whatever their family’s economic circumstance. These are policies that offer a mix of social opportunity and protection not to be confused with protectionism, the kind of progressive policies that Gordon Brown and I stand for, and we should explain and urge our Democrat friends and allies to adopt them.

This is the modern way – and the only way – to embrace the changes the world is undergoing, to sustain a progressive globalisation with social justice. Indeed politically, you cannot have the one without the other. For thirty years, globalisation was funded by western capital and structured to meet western demand. This is already changing. Last year, one in every six dollars of Foreign Direct Investment came from outside the developed world. China now ranks third in world goods trade with 12% of global exports and is fourth in world services trade with 5% of global exports. According to projections by Goldman Sachs, it is set to become the world’s largest economy, followed by the US and India, by 2050.

This shift, the biggest restructuring of the global economy since the industrial revolution, is increasing competition – and, therefore, generating huge economic and social pressures – at home and abroad. It’s intensifying demand for the world’s nature resources, a potentially huge competition which new trade rules need to govern.

As old economic certainties are eroded, countries and individuals are being challenged to find new ways to succeed. These new ways are not a race to the bottom as so many fear – on wages, regulations or anything else. They are about how most effectively to foster growth, not by reliance on financial engineering, but by genuine innovation and increases in productivity and through continued engagement with a global economy set to double in size during the next twenty five years. A global economy that since the early 1990s has helped over 400 million people from the developing world escape extreme poverty, and which through rising aspiration and a greater demand for high-value goods and services is a major source of prosperity in both the American and European economies.

That’s why it is self-interest for the US and EU to champion open markets and a multilateral system of trade and why this means supporting the Doha Round of trade negotiations. And I hope that when they meet next weekend, the G20 leaders will provide a strong signal of their commitment to intensifying negotiations and reaching agreement on the framework for a deal this year.

The early appointment of a US Trade Representative by the new administration, and engagement in the Doha negotiations would send a powerful message that, despite the changing world order – indeed because of it – countries can work together for their own, national and shared global interests. That’s what should bind Europe and the US, and what Britain should champion.

We want America to seize the opportunity of the Obama victory to reclaim its leadership role in the world. But Mr Obama will never succeed if Congress forces the new President into isolationism and protectionism, which forces America to turn in on itself.