Internationalism is under attack. Theresa May shamefully said in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference in 2016, “If you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” There are still siren voices in England and Scotland calling for us to turn inward. It suits them to cynically try and keep a focus on constitutional questions to avoid scrutiny of their wider agenda and record.
Just as “America First” and “Make America Great Again” have found resonance with so many in the US, there are those here who maintain a retreat into narrow nationalism will help resolve the issues we face, as if the sovereignty of a nation should be defined in aggressive opposition to its closest neighbours.
Labour has always stood for solidarity between peoples and nations. A solidarity based on values not expedience. Solidarity which, at times, we have been prepared to fight to defend, and must again. It is through our social justice identity that I believe we can win the battle with divisive nationalism but I do not believe that we have all the answers here in the UK in how this can be achieved. We must seek out the lessons from the brief moments in history when this has happened internationally, and from where our sister movements are still winning.
That’s why I have suggested if I become Labour’s next leader I will set up an international commission to learn lessons from experiences elsewhere, in places like Quebec and Catalonia. In Quebec, the positive expression of solidarity from Canadians towards their fellow citizens — coupled with real devolution of powers — was the central reason why separatism was defeated there. It allowed the people of Quebec to be who they wanted to be with overlapping, complex, multiple identities without forcing them into a choice that would require those identities to fragment.
Equally socialists in Catalonia have for years been peacefully resisting the advance of separatists there, and most recent indications suggest that their democratic efforts may well succeed. There are hopeful signs their approach of socialism and solidarity — which stands in stark contrast to the unjustified violence we saw from the Spanish police operating under the instruction of Spain’s then right wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy — may yet win out.
In a world that is more interconnected than ever before, and where many of the problems we face are global in nature, we must set our sights on the global picture, and what we have in common, not just because it’s a means to an end, but because it matters in its own right.
We believe that through solidarity with one another people across the world rise up together. Take the Indian cotton pickers and the Lancashire cotton mill workers of the 1930s for example who stood together in solidarity at great personal cost. Or the young people I met during the Arab Spring, who had put everything on the line to fight for freedom. It was not the hope that freedom would come that kept them going. More the certain knowledge of what life was like without it.
The bravery of those young people convinced me that we cannot allow our values to drift. The world is complex and interlinked but “important principles may, and must be, inflexible”. This is the difference between us and the Tories. Our values permeate our internationalism whereas whatever values they have appear to be negotiable. We must acknowledge how — in recent times — we have failed to infuse our internationalism with the values we believe in.
Labour’s internationalism sees the world as it is and is clear eyed about the challenges it faces and steadfast in a commitment to build a better world and to preserve it for the generations to come. To live up to this commitment we need more than dreams. We need a plan and that plan must take people with us.
There was a moment, following the referendum result in 2016, where a national conversation on what came next after we left the EU was possible. A genuine conversation that could see Leave and Remain voters come together to define what was important and to set a course for the UK that they could stand behind. Not perfect for any, but better for all, and because of that the hardest path of all.
We missed this moment but the lesson from history is that the path of least resistance has never pointed towards progress. We win together.