William Hague has been here for 2 days and leaves this evening. He is the UK Foreign Affairs Secretary and he has been paying NZ the first bilateral visit of a Foreign Affairs Secretary for perhaps 30 years. He’s a clever bloke. I remember him as the incoming Leader of the Opposition in 1997 when I was in Britain and Tony Blair romped in. He got a terrible pasting from the media (as Leaders of the Opposition do….) but has turned out to be a very significant political presence in the Tory front bench in Opposition and now in the UK Cabinet.
I can’t fault his principled approach to Foreign Affairs. He has been forthright about human rights, calling it the conscience of Foreign Affairs. He has spoken out about the threatened stoning of Sakineh Ashtiani in Iran, for alleged adultery. Our government said nothing. He was quick to call the Burmese elections a charade and prompt to support Aung San Suu Kyi’s release - our government was virtually mute on these events, until pressed.
He has maintained overseas aid commitments, despite the biting impact of the recession in Britain, pledging concretely to save the lives of 50,000 mothers and a quarter of a million babies around the neediest parts of the world by 2015, in pursuit of the Millenium Development Goals. Our government turns overseas aid into private sector gains because in their view, getting the private sector to provide economic growth is the beginning and end of development assistance. Millenium Development Goals are ignored.
Hague has also committed to getting to .7% of GDP in aid by 2013 – an extraordinary commitment in these times of government cuts. We only got half way to that in the good times at .35%. I can’t see this government prioritising it any higher.
He promotes the participation of women in peacebuilding negotiations and reconciliation teams in regions of conflict, in line with UN resolution 1325. Our government couldn’t give a toss.
Hague sees an effective global response to climate change as the thing to underpin security and prosperity. Our government promotes an Emissions Trading Scheme which is a laughing stock.
I hope William Hague and Murray McCully had a good talk or two. They are both conservatives after all. We haven’t done what the UK tells us to for years and nor should we. But there is no harm in learning from the efforts of people with whom we have a great deal in common.