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GRM Speech: Chatham House
#1
Gruffydd Rhys Morrison, former Shadow Foreign Secretary and Labour MP for Easington, made a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House.
 
Thank you for accepting the invitation to join me this evening. It is a great pleasure to be able to speak to you at this esteemed and respected venue, which continues to do important policy research on some of the most interesting and complex issues of our age. One could not have envisaged, ten years ago, that a Labour internationalist, would be speaking to you to oppose a European Treaty, put forward by a Tory Government. Such is the curiousness of our times.
 
I want to start by saying that it is not my intention this evening to proselytise, nor to convert. Rather, I shall seek to reflect, candidly perhaps, but fairly and rooted in that common golden thread that I believe we shall share; that evidence should be our compass and research our tool for crafting sustainable, credible foreign policy and for enacting change in our international institutions. If we can agree on that, I think we will get along just fine for the next hour or so.
 
I think it prudent to start my reflections with the matter of hyperbole. When I entered Parliament in 1974, it was an age of consensus. Economic, social, diplomatic. The consensus, beaten and reviled now for a good decade by the extreme elements of politics, was perhaps, more of a covenant. A solemn understanding and silent agreement between the left and the right that ultimately, what mattered in this country when it came to public policy was results. Outcomes. Did our policy-making make life better for people? How much? For whom? How do we know? Will it last? These were the questions that dominated what was an era of debate and discussion, but also of respect and rationalism.
 
Hyperbole, I believe, crept in slowly. At first, it was the domain of the printed press, of tabloids and exposés. Then, as the television programmes started to join-in, we found that key figures in public life started coming forth with outlandish claims about each other. Every policy would rob the poor of their food, would crash the economy. The left, in the eyes of many, became united in communism, and the right, in the eyes of as many, become fascists. Where did the middle ground go? From speaking with many Members of Parliament, and the public, my conclusion is this; the middle are still there. We still exist. We've simply been penned-in by the hyperbole swirling around us. It encloses on us and renders us motionless. If we are to push for evidence-based policy-making once more, we must first reject hyperbole and hold fast against the backlash we will inevitably get when we're simultaneously accused of being Tories and Trots.
 
So how do we move beyond hyperbole? The first thing we can do is to question. Asking questions is one of the most powerful democratic tools in our arsenal and equipping journalists, politicians and the public with a set of those tools will ensure that we can hold those with power and authority to account. We must reserve the right to be the ones who hold the powerful to account, to demand transparency and scrutiny and to challenge answers. During my time as Shadow Foreign Secretary, I made a habit of asking questions on every Ministerial Statement given, even when they seemed in perfect order or uncontroversial. I didn’t do this for press attention, in fact I very rarely told the press I was asking questions in the House, but rather because it was my duty to ensure that if somebody is going to come before the democratically-elected Parliament of this country, that they be expected to expand, to explain, to clarify, to justify, and if I did my job right, to convince.
 
I take that view on the Maastricht Treaty. My first role is not to approve or oppose but to challenge, to hold it up to scrutiny and ask questions. Whom does it benefit? What powers does it give? To whom? How many? How will they be held accountable? How will the public retain control? My own ideologies, internationalist though I undoubtedly am, must come second to the presiding obligation that I have both as a Member of Parliament and as a private citizen, to pick apart the answers presented, to compare that with the information before me, and to make a judgement based not on my own prejudices but on the research and evidence unveiled. I have said before, I think it was to the Fabian Society, that our principles must guide our decision making. That is absolutely right. However, one of the most key principles we must uphold, in any part of modern society, is that of fairness and evidence.
 
So what answers have my questioning revealed? I went into this process as an ardent internationalist, and I remain one, but it did reveal to me the careful balance we must take in our belief in cooperation and global solutions to common problems, with the need to protect the interests of our constituents and working people. That can sometimes be a delicate complex balance. Maastricht, in the negotiated form, I have found, fails to preserve that balance. It lands solidly in favour of particular ideologies and solutions without real accommodation for nuance or evidence. I want to believe in a Treaty for Europe but what has been presented does not reflect that. Rather, the Treaty opts to rather shamelessly promote specific interests and policy-goals. It is less of a Treaty for cooperation between like minded nations and instead has become something of a standardised format for economic and political policy.
 
Take the 3% budget deficit rule, for instance. Ask those powerful questions. Why 3%? Whom does that serve? What impact will that have on government? On people? When is 3.1% acceptable? Why is 2.9% more acceptable? The answers to these have not been particularly forthcoming. I believe the Chancellor was asked about this in Parliament and his answer went something like; "well Labour would spend more." And we would. If the evidence suggested a particular public service needed investment at 4%, you're damn right I would want to spend more and I have seen no evidence that doing so would irreversibly damage the economy, nor do I have access to any evidence that suggests it would wreck the economies of fellow European friends and allies. There's that hyperbole again.
 
The social charter was particularly important to me, ideologically. Credit where credit is due, I am pleased the Government has signed up to elements of it. However, we must ask why only some? Why did they agree to sign up to some elements and not others? Why was collective bargaining left out specifically? The only answers that have been revealed so far is that the Government did not want to sign up to a social charter that would see pay powers or trades unions protected. That is not evidence-rooted policymaking, that is ideology driving decision making.
 
If we bake-into a Treaty, an ideological set of rules for ourselves, we cease to be internationalist or cooperative rationalists, we become instead servants to belief over evidence. My contention is that in policymaking, we should be ideological atheists. Rooted in principles, yes but not blind to research or the results. Being an internationalist doesn't mean we must jump at every opportunity to sign a Treaty and call it a job well done. Rather, being an internationalist, means carefully considering the balance of national interests and collective interests and using evidence to find that all-important middle ground. We must say yes to data, yes to facts, yes to cooperation with others. But where ideology has become religion and a Treaty a Church?  A Treaty for Europe, yes, but a Treaty for Monetarism? I'm an atheist. 
Gruffydd Rhys Morrison MP
Labour and Cooperative
Member for Easington \ Shadow Regions Secretary
Biography  | XP: 5 | Traits: Safe pair of hands
Issue Champion: Britain’s place in the world
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#2
A nicely timed and presented speech from Mr. Morrison, who many note is already missed on the Labour frontbenches.

Regardless, Morrison makes himself felt just as much as if he were still in a senior role, addressing a prestigious think tank on not just Maastricht but the wider issue of Britain's place in the world.

Morrison combines oratorical skill and clear points for the audience he is addressing. It would have been easy to merely stick to partisan, political points but here he is able to go beyond that into some foreign policy thinking.

Issue Champion trait to Morrison (on the issue of Britain's place in the world)
Redgrave | A-Team
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