Thursday, September 28, 2006

Essentially Global

Passing by London on my way back from New York was a good opportunity to get up to speed on the transformations underway on the British political scene.

The Labour party has just finished its conference in Manchester, and the Conservatives are only days from theirs in Bournemouth.

Tony Blair is leaving - although probably not until May of next year or so - and Labour is challenged by the new Conservative leader David Cameron.

His ratings might be fairly low on the British scene at the moment, but I persist in seeing him as one of the both best and most interesting major political leaders in terms of making speeches.

And his farewell in Manchester was certainly not exception to that rule. It's worth reading in its whole.

But here I'll just quote at some length what he said about how the challenges of politics have changed during the last decade. From being essentially national, they have now become essentially global:

The scale of the challenges now dwarf what we faced in 1997. They are different, deeper, bigger, hammered out on the anvil of forces, global in nature, sweeping the world.

In 1997 the challenges we faced were essentially British. Today they are essentially global.

The world today is a vast reservoir of potential opportunity. New jobs in environmental technology, the creative industries, financial services. Cheap goods and travel. The internet. Advances in science and technology.

In 10 years we will think nothing of school-leavers going off to university anywhere in the world.

But with these opportunities comes huge insecurity.

In 1997 we barely mentioned China. Not any more. Last year China and India produced more graduates than all of Europe put together.

10 years ago, energy wasn't on the agenda. The environment an also-ran.

10 years ago, if we talked pensions we meant pensioners.

Immigration hardly raised.

Terrorism meant the IRA.

Not any more.

We used to feel we could shut our front door on the problems and conflicts of the wider world. Not any more.

Not with globalisation. Not with climate change. Not with organised crime. Not when suicide bombers born and bred in Britain bring carnage to the streets of London . In the name of religion.

A speech by the Pope to an academic seminar in Bavaria leads to protests in Britain.

The question today is different to the one we faced in 1997.

It is how we reconcile openness to the rich possibilities of globalisation, with security in the face of its threats.

How to be open and secure.

I would hope that every major political leader in every European country would be ready to spell out the nature of the tasks ahead in the same way.