Written by a Conservative member in the South East of England.
In the early 1960s, Richard Nixon was photographed waiting to cross Fifth Avenue. All the other pedestrians were looking across the road waiting for the ‘walk’ signal. Nixon, however, was pictured looking the other way. The caption read ‘Who remembers Dick Nixon?’. This photograph gets a reference in the less than flattering film Nixon by Oliver Stone. The scene in question, during his period in the wilderness after being defeated by Kennedy, has Nixon point out that he was looking straight ahead for the traffic lights to change (thereby getting ahead of the crowd).
Here’s the point. Following the crowd is never the path to leadership or to setting the agenda. The political order, domestic and international, is going through a great upheaval. It is essential for Britain to shape what emerges – and this can be done only by Conservative internationalists.
It is imperative we do not leave this to the Left. Conservative internationalists now have to resume our historic role of understanding the world as it is and work to ensure that constructive relations between nations remains a central principle in the rule-based international system.
Neither insular nationalists nor idealist world federalists have the grown-up philosophical approach to provide a credible and constructive contribution towards shaping the world. The Conservative tradition has always had internationalism at its core; we have long understood the realities of how best to project British influence and power. From Castlereagh and Wellington at the Congress of Vienna to Lord Lansdowne’s orchestration of the Entente Cordiale and Churchill’s drafting of the Atlantic Charter – Conservatives have always engaged with the world as it is.
Although never shrinking from intervention when necessary, we have always understood that “jaw-jaw is better than war-war.” Practical pragmatism – long synonymous with British Conservatives – has always been central in making a diplomacy which endures and works to our advantage.
With our history, Conservative internationalists have an instinctive understanding of the power-play and realities of international relations and how best to advance British interests: by shaping the system we work within and cooperating with other countries. It is not good enough – as others must recognise – to rock up and expect to get our way just because we are British. Advancing our interests is always easier if we commit time and intelligence to forging positive relationships across the globe and shaping the global agenda.
We must remain relevant and apply the principles of “jaw-jaw” to the context of our time. Doing nothing is not an option. Isolationists and nationalists will readily fill the space we would vacate by failing to act. Britain – and the world – would be the lesser for it.
Back to Nixon and that photograph. Nixon went on to become President, win re-election and, together with Henry Kissinger, began a rapprochement with China and redefine international relations. Like in that picture, Conservative internationalists must be far-sighted and get ahead of the crowd.