Latest Channel 4 News:
Row over Malaysian state's coins
'Four shot at abandoned mine shaft'
Rain fails to stop Moscow wildfires
Cancer blow for identical twins
Need for Afghan progress 'signs'

Vote 2010: policy guide - foreign

By Lindsey Hilsum

Updated on 07 April 2010

While the two main parties have similar policies towards major issues such as Afghanistan and relations with the US, they have a very different outlook on the world.

Union Jack (Getty)

At the moment, we have the G20 – a club comprising the 20 largest economic powers.

But one country is shooting up the diplomatic table to rival the USA: China. We could end up with a G2.


The Labour party believes that means Britain – a medium level power – has to streamline its foreign policy with the rest of Europe.

"If we want to avoid a G2 world, then you need to build up European foreign policy strength because we’re not going to have a G2 plus Britain," said David Miliband, at a recent Chatham House debate.


But the Conservatives are reluctant to defer to a European consensus.

William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, talks more of working with the UN and other multi-lateral bodies, as well as reasserting Britain’s unilateral national interest.

The Tories have withdrawn from the European People’s Party, the grouping which includes mainstream centre-right parties including those headed by Angela Merkel in Germany and Nicholas Sarkozy in France, to sit with more right-wing parties in the European parliament.

The scholar and journalist Timothy Garton-Ash says when he talks to high-level contacts in the Obama administration, they express concern, because a Conservative British government would no longer be in the mainstream of European decision-making and thinking, but left on one side. William Hague denies that the Americans care.

"The niceties of European political parties and alliances are a minor consideration," he says.


The Lib Dems believe in strengthening European foreign policy even more than Labour, and want to use that to tighten controls on arms exports and improve international environmental regulation. They favour the idea of an "ethical foreign policy" proposed by the late Labour foreign secretary Robin Cook.

The Greens are also multi-lateralists, while rightwing parties such as UKIP and the BNP loathe Europe, preferring to look to the US and other English-speaking countries such as Australia. Mr Hague says relations with Washington should be "solid but not slavish" – a dig at Tony Blair.

He would like to see the Foreign Office strengthened after years under Labour where power moved to Downing St, primarily because Mr Blair wanted to make all the important decisions. As a strong figure, with more experience than the Conservative leader David Cameron, Mr Hague would probably have more power than any Labour or Lib Dem foreign secretary.

Labour and the Tories say they’re there for the long haul in Afghanistan. On Iran, they all seem to agree that more sanctions should be imposed if Iran does not convince them it’s not building a nuclear bomb. They all see countering terrorism as a priority.

They want to ensure that British companies prosper from the rise of China and India, but have no new ideas on how to do that. They all talk of the importance of the English language, the reach of British culture and education, while planning to cut spending on universities, one of the country’s major attractions and sources of "soft power".

All three parties believe that the international development budget should be preserved. They all seem to look at Africa as a "problem", a continent in need of aid, rather than a place rich in natural resources and potential, in constant danger if destabilisation, requiring a political rather than a charitable policy.

Whoever wins the election, do not expect a major change in foreign policy.

But if the Tories come to power, it will be interesting to see how they manage Britain’s declining influence in the world, without turning to Europe.

Send this article by email

More on this story

Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Watch the Latest Channel 4 News

Watch Channel 4 News when you want

Latest Domestic politics news

More News blogs

View RSS feed

Cartoon coalition


How Channel 4 News viewers picture the coalition in cartoon form

Token candidate?

Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbott (credit:Getty Images)

Diane Abbott: I am the genuine move-on candidate for Labour

'Mr Ordinary'

Andy Burnham, Getty images

Andy Burnham targets Labour's 'ordinary' person.

Iraq inquiry: day by day

Tony Blair mask burnt during protest outside the Iraq inquiry. (Credit: Getty)

Keep track of Sir John Chilcot's Iraq war findings day by day.

The Freedom Files

Freedom Files

Revealed: the stories they didn't want to tell.

Making a FoI request?

Channel 4 News tells you how to unearth information.

Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.