'ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH' OR ANOTHER 'DAMP SQUIB'? GORDON BROWN'S GUILDHALL SPEECH REVISITED
On Monday, the 10th of November, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, gave one of the standard, set-pieces of British political speech making: the annual Guildhall Speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet, in London. The speech was to no one surprise mostly about the ongoing financial crisis. A crisis, which so far as Prime Minister Brown is concerned as done him quite well indeed politically speaking. How permanent the 'Brown bounce', will be once, the very negative consequences of the rather harsh recession that the UK will go through in the next eighteen to twenty months is another question entirely (for the latest figures as provided by the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, see: www.ft.com). However, I do not wish to discuss Gordon Brown's political prospects in the near or not so near future, today, as to discuss his ideas about the future as it relates to both British foreign policy, and, policy as it relates to the USA. In both cases the speech makes for grim, or rather depressing reading. To paraphrase Lev Davidovich Bronstein (aka Trotskii), 'there are few things more depressing than reading Gordon Brown' (unless that is one is reading his Foreign Secretary David Milliband's blog). Regardless, what one immediately comes across when one commences to delve into Brown's words is the plethora of dead metaphors and descriptions, usually of the Churchillian variety. Such as:
"And, we have a choice: to retreat or advance; to turn inwards to to look outwards; to be cowed by our fears or to be lead by our hopes".
With all too many similar such examples to quote to you. Notwithstanding the primacy, one would think of the current economic crisis, Brown was rather unwilling to come up with any specific suggestions or initiatives. Instead the audience was treated to such commonplaces as:
"I believe that we in the west should approach these great challenges of our time with some humility. The West certainly does not have all the answers to them. We need more than the G8 - for the time when a few powers can just sit around the table and set the global agenda is over. Quite rightly, the emerging powers of the 21st century will want to - and must - play their part. And so the G8, the IMF and the World Bank must change to meet the new realities".
The fact is that already, two days prior to the tremendously over-sold, 'new Bretton Woods', meeting this Friday, the likelihood of anything of substance occurring is Gordon Brown notwithstanding, apparent next to naught. First, it appears that neither the outgoing nor the incoming American administrations appear to be very anxious to be committed to any agreements arrived at, this coming week-end. Second, the head of the IMF, Monsieur Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has openly declared that he has not the slightest interest in changing the mission or the nature of the institution that he heads. Third and finally, it does not appear that Peking is itself particularly interested in allowing its freedom of economic action and sovereignty to be circumscribed by some new 'financial architecture' (for the above see the relevant articles in the last week in the Financial Times: www.ft.com).
On the subject of Anglo-American relations, Brown plays the same notes that his predecessor, Mr. Blair, played so incessantly, albeit more ably:
"My central argument this evening is that the alliance between Britain and America - more broadly between Europe and America - can and must provide leadership in this [crisis], not in order to make and impose the rules ourselves, but to lead and broaden the global effort to build a stronger, secure and more equitable international order".
The fact of the matter is that on most international issues currently, the UK is still playing (in the words of Lord Avon) "the American tune". And, that the USA has no real intention of doing any of the things that Brown laudably enough, wants to do, such as: reduce poverty, reduce income inequality internationally, bring a sustained effort to peace in the Near East, help with the unresolved conflicts in Darfur, Burma and Rhodesia [Zimbabwe], et cetera, et cetera. Nor as we have seen, is the USA, either now or on the 21st of January 2009, interested in changing the financial architecture of the world. However, for Brown it makes much more sense to believe otherwise. And, in fact one can argue that the incoming Administration will if nothing else, be so much better in providing a fig leaf, to the UK government in such matters. As opposed to the toxic Bush Regime.
In short, rather than providing a clear and realistic assessment of the past and future of UK foreign policy, as well as the financially troubled times that we are living through, Prime Minister Brown has merely ad libbed some rather dead metaphors and ideas, which have little or no life left in them. Reading the speech in full, one can only wonder how much longer the UK can be governed by such a man.
Speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet: Transcript of speech given by the Prime Minister to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the Guildhall. 10 November 2008
"My Lord Mayor, my late Lord Mayor, your Grace, my Lord Chancellor, your Excellencies, my Lords, Aldermen, Sheriffs, Chief Commoner, ladies and gentlemen.
These last weeks and months will be studied by generations to come.
Historians will look back and say this was no ordinary time but a defining moment: an unprecedented period of global change, a time when one chapter ended and another began - for nations; for continents; for the whole world.
To us falls the challenge of leading Britain through the first financial crisis of this new global age and, as reflected in the huge volatility in the price of commodities, its first resources crisis too.
But these crises reflect underlying and unprecedented transformations in our world:
· the rise of Asia and the shift of global manufacturing power;
· growing resource pressures - from oil to food
· the undeniable reality of climate change;
· and new political instabilities and conflicts
All accompanied by the growing gap between rich and poor countries; and of course by the impact of new technology and the rise of the internet giving millions of people for the first time the ability to communicate, do business and organise across frontiers.
The range, complexity and impact of these forces underline just how much we are taking the first tentative steps towards what i will call a global society. And that what is at stake now is not just the success and legitimacy of our global economy but ultimately the prosperity and security of nations and communities in every corner of the world.
The decisions we make now will re-shape our societies ——in all probability for decades and more.
And we have a choice: to retreat or advance; to turn inwards or to look outwards; to be cowed by our fears or led by our hopes.
The world today can seem a daunting place - and when people feel buffeted or bewildered by the scale of the changes it can seem easy to retreat into the outworn and failed responses of yesterday — to a time of pessimism, protectionism and retrenchment.
But we could make a far better choice.
I want this to become the moment when together we rise to the new challenges by purposeful visionary and international leadership, leaving behind the orthodoxies of yesterday and embracing new ideas to create a better tomorrow: not as victims of history but as shapers of an open, free trade, flexible globalisation that is also inclusive and sustainable.
For while today so much looks grey or dark in the global economy we should not forget that we are in the midst of an economic transition to a new global age: whatever happens now, it is likely that in the next two decades the world economy will double in size. And that means twice as many opportunities for good businesses and twice as many opportunities for men and women with new ideas to market. And as many as one thousand million new jobs for skilled workers will be created. So this is the other side of globalisation - not just the insecurities we know about but the opportunities, the promise it holds for tomorrow.
And it is, indeed, possible to see the threats and challenges we face today as the difficult birth-pangs of a new global order - and our task now nothing less than making the transition through a new internationalism to a more collegial, collaborative and opportunity-rich global society, not muddling through as pessimists but, as optimists, making the necessary adjustment to a better future....
So, while I see a world that is facing financial crisis and still diminished by conflict and injustice, I also see the chance to forge a new multilateralism that is both hard-headed and progressive. And I believe that in our international co-operation on finance, climate change, terrorism and ending conflict, there is evidence of this new multilateralism at work in the world: fairer, more stable, and more prosperous because it is rooted in cooperation and justice.
And if we learn from our experience of turning unity of purpose into unity of action, together we can seize this moment of profound change to create, for the first time, the age of the truly global society —-one where progressive multilateralism, not narrow unilateralism, is the norm; one where people find that what unites them is far greater that what ever divided them; and where it is co-operation, not confrontation, that flourishes in answer to age-old challenges:
· the challenge to reassert our faith in the advance of democracy as the most effective weapon in our arsenal against terrorism and tyranny.
· and — as we mark armistice day tomorrow and remember the sacrifices made in darker times - the challenge to build for peace
· the challenge to build consensus for a new global financial system
· the need to confront the realities of global climate change by building a sustainable low carbon economy
· and to make a reality of the vision of a global society by creating global partnerships across public, private and voluntary sectors to address poverty and move toward economic justice.
I believe that we in the west should approach these great challenges of our time with some humility. The west certainly does not have all the answers to them. We need more than the G8 – for the time when just a few powers could sit around the table and set the global agenda is over.
Quite rightly, the emerging powers of the 21st century will want to - and must - play their part. And so the G8, the IMF and the World Bank must change to meet the new realities.
But my central argument this evening is that the alliance between britain and America - and more broadly between Europe and America - can and must provide leadership in this, not in order to make and impose the rules ourselves, but to lead and broaden the global effort to build a stronger, secure and more equitable international order.
Rightly people talk of a special relationship: but that special relationship is also a partnership for a purpose. The transatlantic relationship has been the engine of effective multilateralism for the past 50 years. Together
· we faced down aggression and dictatorship;
· in a few short years we built the great international post-war institutions - the World Bank, the international monetary fund, the United Nations.
· and we led the drive for trade, enterprise and dynamic markets.
Now unprecedented events have brought a turn of history that few would once have foreseen or expected.
Just days ago, across the atlantic, our closest ally gave new meaning to its founding creed that all “are created equal.” Gave new strength to the notion that the american dream is for all Americans....
Winston Churchill described the joint inheritance of Britain and America - as not just a shared history but a shared belief in the great principles of freedom and the rights of man - of what Barack Obama described in his election night speech as the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.
And as America stands at its own dawn of hope - so let that hope be fulfilled through a pact with the wider world to lead and shape the twenty-first century as the first century of a truly global society.
And i believe that with the farsighted leadership we have in Europe, the whole of Europe can and will work closely with America and with the rest of the world to meet the great challenges which will illuminate our convictions and test our resolution.
First - we must reassert our faith in democracy and be confident in our belief that open, plural, diverse societies are those most likely to stay rich, strong and free.
So we must step up and win the battle of ideas against terrorism and extremism not by sacrificing the liberties that they scorn but by securing new international means of achieving stability, reconstruction and democracy in failed and fragile states.
And we must promote greater tolerance and understanding within and between communities. Later this week I will join King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia alongside president bush and other World Leaders for his interfaith dialogue at the United Nations - deepening understanding between religions and countering extremist ideologies.
Second let us move quickly to complement the role of peacekeepers and aid workers through civilian as well as military assistance, to rebuild conflict-ridden and fragile states.
Just as we will continue to offer immediate help and advance the cause of peace in Darfur, Burma and Zimbabwe, and stand up for the democracies of Georgia and Ukraine, we will stand by the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo as they face new conflict and turmoil. We will get aid to those who need it. We will protect those who are threatened ——by ensuring that un peacekeepers, already the largest force of its kind in the world, are properly led, trained and enabled. And we will work relentlessly to build the political settlement that is the only guarantee of long term peace.
Ultimately our shared security should be based not on the increased use of weapons but on their reduction. At this same occasion last year, I described the leading role I saw for our country in reducing the proliferation of weapons.
I am pleased that one hundred countries have joined us in banning cluster bombs; and that the idea of a multinational fuel bank to help non-nuclear states acquire nuclear energy is gaining support.
And working with our allies we are ready to do more: having extended export prohibitions on trafficking in small arms, we are ready to promote a new arms trade treaty. And I say to Iran which has signed the non proliferation treaty: in these new circumstances rejoin global society and benefit from help in acquiring civil nuclear power - or face new sanctions –and growing isolation.
Conflict in the Middle East and the failure to restore a Palestinian state is a festering wound that has for generations poisoned relations between the west and the arab and Islamic world. But I believe, and I have heard for myself, that the elements that can constitute a settlement are now well understood by those on all sides who want to come together to end the divisions of the past. It has often been said that an historic hard-won and lasting peace is now within our grasp. But what i do know is that building on the work of President Bush, that durable and just settlement is an urgent priority for the new us administration - and the uk will stand firm in support.
A Middle East settlement has the potential to transform the future of the Middle East. In Iraq we continue to defend a new democracy and last summer we set out the remaining tasks to be achieved there to make possible a fundamental change of mission and the transition to a long term bilateral partnership with Iraq, similar to the normal relationships which our military forces have with other countries in the region. And we are making good progress with each of our objectives.
And I welcome the reaffirmed commitment from both president bush and President-elect Obama to defend a stable and democratic future for Afghanistan and to review the best ways of achieving this through better burden-sharing: America at its best - leading a broad international effort underpinned by shared values, working more effectively with the grain of Afghan society including the tribes; working with our allies to double the size of the Afghan army, working with President Karzai to tackle corruption and supporting the democratic Afghan government in its slow but steady attempts to build peace. And we will support the Afghan and Pakistan governments in working together to tackle the security issues across the border which the last decade has shown are crucial to our own security at home.
Afghanistan is a test the international community cannot afford to fail. And we will not fail.
Third - seventy-five years ago at a time of recession nations met in london in a World economic conference- and because the talks broke up in failure the world entered a long decade of protectionism and retrenchment.
In Washington this weekend, the British government will work with its G20 partners to establish consensus and begin to build a new bretton woods with a reformed, modern, imf that offers, by its surveillance of every economy, an early warning system and a crisis prevention mechanism for the whole world.
This will require:
· The recapitalisation of banks and their resumption of lending to families and businesses
· Immediate action to stop the spread of the financial crisis to middle income countries, building agreement for a new facility and new resources for the IMF
· urgent agreement on a trade deal and rejection of beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism that has been a feature in turning past crises into deep recessions
· a restoration of confidence by addressing the root causes of the instability through reform of the global financial system based on the principles of transparency, integrity, responsibility, sound banking practice and global governance with co-ordination across borders and every nation playing its part
· better International coordination of fiscal and monetary policy - recognising the immediate importance of this coordination for stimulating economic activity.
At the heart of this is a growing agreement that at a time of change and massive uncertainty, people look to governments for action. This is no time for conventional old thinking or tired old orthodoxies.
So my message is that we must be:
· internationalist not protectionist
· interventionist not isolationist
· progressive not paralysed by events
· and forward-thinking not trapped in the solutions of the past....
And if we do so 2008 will be remembered not just for a financial crash that engulfed the world but for the decisiveness and optimism with which the world faced the storm, endured it and prevailed. And remembered too for how in doing so we discovered and refashioned the global power of nations working together.
President Roosevelt famously said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
When fear overwhelms our perceptions of reality the effect is paralysing; it leaves people frozen into inaction - helpless at a time of great risk — and even at a time of great opportunity too.
But confidence in the future –that most precious asset of all - is the key to bringing back confidence today. It is dynamic, it heralds action.
And - for reasons I have laid before you this evening - I am confident.
Confident that we can seize the moment, grasp it together, and use it to lay the foundations - optimistic, multilateralist and inclusive - on which we can build the first truly global society". www.number10.gov.uk