The danger with accusing your opponents of “rank hypocrisy” is that, if you’re not careful, you run the risk of being accused of exactly the same charge yourselfby Steve Bloomfield / September 28, 2017 / Leave a comment
Robin Cook’s foreign policy “with an ethical dimension” lasted just two months. In July 1997 it was revealed that the British government was selling fighter jets to Indonesia, a country at that time run by a dictator. The deal had been struck by the previous Conservative government but the new Foreign Secretary had decided not to renege on it. The doctrine became a punchline, even more so six years later when the Iraq War began.
But two decades on Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, wants to revive it. In her conference speech on Monday, she promised a foreign policy with human rights at its heart. Its centrepiece would be the full implementation of the International Arms Trade Treaty—a policy that would, for instance, mean the end of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It was a popular call inside the hall and, one suspects, it will prove popular outside too. Defending the sale of weapons to autocratic regimes is not a good look for any government.
The Saudi-led war in Yemen, and the UK government’s support for it, was a theme that Thornberry returned to again and again—Yemen was mentioned six time, surely a record for a speech at any UK party conference.
She rightly criticised a foreign policy with “no values or ethics, no rules or principles” and, following the Conservatives criticism during the summer of Nicholas Maduro’s actions in Venezuela, attacked Theresa May’s government for “loudly condemn[ing] those they regard as enemies but then fall[ing] utterly silent when it is their friends in Bahrain rounding up, torturing and executing civilian protestors or their friends in Saudi Arabia dropping cluster bombs on innocent children in Yemen.”
But the danger with accusing your opponents of “rank hypocrisy” is that, if you’re not careful, you run the risk of being accused of exactly the same charge yourself. Thornberry revelled in attacking Donald Trump, even comparing him to a “rogue dictator”. But in a 2,300-word speech that focused on human rights and the rule of international law, Thornberry somehow failed to find time to mention Russia or Vladimir Putin.