Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It's the fault of New Labour?

Rosemary Hollis’s presentation of Britain in the Middle East in the 9/11 era felt odd. I’m not used to Britain being presented as a strange and foreign country, but that was certainly the case last night in Jerusalem.

She noted that contrary to what many might feel in this part of the world, the Middle East is not at the centre of Briton’s political attention, either generally or indeed now, during the election. Her main point was to note that British policy has been greatly influenced by the creation of ‘New’ Labour. As well as seeking to rebrand Britain as a force for good in the world (which then shifted to combating evil after 9/11), those at the head of New Labour (as opposed to old Labour) not only saw globalisation as the main driver of change (and so global issues were merely an extension of domestic considerations), but also believed Britain’s imperial past was at an end.

This ahistorical perspective is evident in the failure of British policy in Iraq (e.g. the lack of any historical awareness of Britain’s previous forays in that country) and Blair’s close association with Bush compromising any room for manoeuvre.

In the Q&A I asked whether her emphasis on New Labour meant that might be significant differences in terms of whichever party or parties form the next government. Other than some nuances she couldn’t see much change, since British Middle East policy is largely driven by broader, global concerns (i.e. its relations to Washington, the EU, etc).

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