Foreign policy has become an increasingly prominent and emotive issue in British politics over the past decade, from Robin Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’ pledge, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now the success of parties, such as Respect and UKIP, which are arguably founded on coalitions of foreign policy single interest groups.
Yet despite growing public interest in foreign affairs, there has been a culture of continued disengagement from the public on foreign affairs. In areas as diverse as social policy, healthcare and education all three main political parties have demonstrated a real willingness to involve the public in decision making and policy formation. This has not been the case for foreign policy. Arguments about stability of outlook and the necessity of secrecy have perhaps allowed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to operate with considerable discretion, and at the expense of genuine democratic choice over the direction of the UK’s overseas engagement.
As we enter a period of relative political uncertainty, with the prospect of a change of Government or, even, a hung Parliament, it is vital that the public are allowed an opportunity to engage in the debate over the future of British foreign policy. Now, on the seventh anniversary of the huge public protests at the Iraq war – through which millions of Britons voiced their opinion on British and American international stances – Demos will seek to establish what the public wants from our foreign policy.
Drawing on Demos’ expertise in devising and running deliberative democracy and citizen engagement events, this project will aim to facilitate genuine public engagement in British foreign policy. It will ask a representative sample of British people, with advice and debate from internationally renowned experts and thinkers, to draw up a list of principles on which they feel that British foreign policy should be based. These principles will form the basis of a Demos report – A Very British Foreign Policy – and will influence Demos’ ongoing Development and Security programme in setting their agenda of work.