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If Labour Wins Britain's Election

By Andrew HubbackAndrew Hubback is head of research at the London branch of the International Freedom Foundation. / April 7, 1992



IN 1992, for the first time in more than a generation, a United States presidential election and a British general election will take place in the same calendar year. A general pattern since the end of World War II has seen periods of Conservative government in Britain (the 1950s, early 1970s, and 1980s) coincide with Republican administrations in the US, while periods of Labour rule in Britain (the late 1940s, 1960s, and the late 1970s) coincided with Democratic presidencies.

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This pattern helped cement the Anglo-American "special relationship," which was strengthened in the 1980s by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan, who shared similar views on political philosophy, economic reform, and foreign policy.

The twin reelections of Prime Minister John Major and President George Bush this year would see currently strong Anglo-American relations, crowned by last year's Gulf war victory, continue on their course. Britain's Labour Party has a realistic chance of winning, however, with potentially disastrous consequences for transatlantic relations.

Labour fought the last two elections (1983 and 1987) on an unequivocal platform of scrapping Britain's independent nuclear deterrent and closing all US nuclear bases on British soil. Labour would cancel Britain's fourth Vanguard-class submarine armed with US-built Trident missiles, taking Britain below the threshold at which credible nuclear deterrence can be maintained. Labour also opposes NATO's plans to modernize its short-range nuclear weapons. Of 207 Labour MPs running for reelection, 167 have suppo rted unilateral nuclear disarmament or have opposed nuclear defense in general. Labour leader Neil Kinnock himself was until recently a member of the unilateralist Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

All parties are campaigning with the promise of a "peace dividend" from cutting conventional defenses. But in contrast to the Conservative government's modest reductions, Labour favors cutting the defense budget by at least 27 percent.

IN such circumstances it would become virtually impossible for Britain to maintain its global responsibilities in such places as Gibraltar, Hong Kong, or the Falkland Islands. British participation in NATO's proposed Rapid Reaction Force, United Nations peacekeeping missions, or unforeseen emergencies like Operation Desert Storm would be put at great risk.

Labour's stance on defense has no considered assessment of the new danger facing the West caused by uncertainty in the former Soviet Union and the spread of nuclear-weapons technology to unpredictable third-world regimes like Iraq. Rather, it is a continuation of policies adopted during the cold war, when Labour completely misjudged Soviet motives and intentions.

As the military threat to the West declined with the Soviet Union, the threat of trade wars and mutually destructive economic protectionism between North America and the European Community (EC) rose. Labour has done an about-face on its policy toward Europe since the last election. Pledged to withdraw Britain from EC membership in 1987, the Labour Party now portrays itself as more committed to Europe than the Conservatives are. This reflects Labour's new belief that the EC will extend interventionist eco nomic, industrial, and social policies opposed by Major's government.

Labour supports moves to more centralized decisionmaking in the EC so that a reelected Conservative government in Britain could not veto EC decisions to impose a single currency across Europe or to give more power to trade unions over the running of businesses. With Britain taking over the presidency of the EC's Council of Ministers in July, a British Labour government could downgrade the importance of completing the EC's single market (scheduled for Dec. 31, 1992) and plans to expand the EC to include C entral and East European countries. A Labour-led presidency would also favor economic protectionism, which would probably sabotage the Uruguay Round of the GATT talks on worldwide free trade.

The most recent opinion polls suggest that the likeliest outcome of the April 9 election will be a hung Parliament, in which no single party has an overall majority. In such circumstances, Neil Kinnock will seek to form a coalition government with the small, center-left Liberal Democratic Party. Although in some respects the Liberal Democrats would act as a moderating force on Labour, their policies on defense and Europe reflect the pacifist, protectionist, and utopian strands of the old Liberal Party.

Should a Labour or Labour-Liberal Democrat government in Britain be combined with a Democratic win of the White House in November, the deterioration of the transatlantic partnership would accelerate, spurred by isolationist defense policies and economic protectionism - a grim New World Order, indeed.