In a campaign marked by the absence of discussion on issues outside its borders, UK election candidates are starting to outline some foreign policies. It is just three weeks to polling day on May 7.
The opposition Labour Party presented foreign policy at a briefing in London on Monday. Shadow Foreign Affairs Ministers Gareth Thomas and Pat McFadden outlined the key points which had been presented in the final section of the party's manifesto: reform of the European Union so it "works for Britain," and a review of defense spending.
While the ruling Conservative Party leader David Cameron has individually expressed support for continued membership of the EU he has proposed an "in or out" referendum once terms have been renegotiated with Brussels, if his party is returned to power.
Overall defense spending and a decision on whether to replace the ageing, multi-billion-euro Trident nuclear submarines, missiles and warheads have dominated any foreign policy discussion.
A decision on renewing Trident is due next year and has been described by Cameron as "non-negotiable." The size of the British army has already been cut to its smallest size in more than a hundred years - 82,000 regular, full-time troops, following a "Future Reserves 2020" review in 2011.
With newspaper headlines ranging from the Daily Telegraph's "Why is every party in this election ignoring foreign policy" to Monday's Guardian: "Migrant boat tragedies expose parochialism of UK election campaign," there has been little attention to Britain's place on a foreign stage, while the focus has remained on the economy and the health service.
The Labour Party manifesto for the May 7 election declared: "Most immediately we will work with our allies to counter and confront terrorism. ISIL's barbarism and expansionist ideology, alongside terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab, represent a particular threat to global security. Following a request from the Iraqi Prime Minister, it was right that the UK joined other nations in air strikes against ISIL targets in Iraq."
The manifesto added: "Labour has been clear about the need to learn the lessons of previous interventions, especially the 2003 invasion of Iraq." In February 2003 there was a demonstration against the invasion of Iraq by, organizers claimed, up to 3 million people, the largest political demonstration in London's history, against the decision taken by the then Labour Party government under Tony Blair.
The candidates for foreign ministers under either a Conservative or Labour government are domestically-focused politicians. Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary since July last year, had been in both the transport and defense ministries before moving to the foreign office. Thomas was minister for international development under the former Labour government, while McFadden was an advisor and political secretary to former premier Blair and a shadow business secretary before being made shadow minister for Europe in October last year.
Focus on matters foreign has been drawn across the northern border into Scotland. On Monday, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), which may win more than 50 seats in Westminster and hold a balance of power, announced its manifesto. Party leader Nicola Sturgeon said she was offering a "hand of friendship" to everyone in Britain who favored "progressive" policies.
Sturgeon said the SNP would fight for an end to austerity cuts in favor of a "modest" spending increase. She said the party would scrap Britain's Scottish-based Trident nuclear deterrent. Increases in the minimum wage and introduction of a new tax on bankers' bonuses are also on the SNP agenda.
Opinion polls put Conservatives and Labour tied on just above 30 percent of the vote each, followed by the SNP and former government coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.
Party leaders have lamented the loss of life in the Mediterranean as migrant boats sink but none opposed last October's decision to cut funding for Italy's search and rescue mission.
Thomas and McFadden both called for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean to be resumed.
jm/rc (EFE, AFP)