• David Carlton


The British Labour Party claims to be a political organisation possessing a principled and distinctive approach to both domestic and foreign affairs. When the party is called upon to govern, however, the ideological element in its day-to-day conduct is not always much in evidence, least of all in the field of foreign policy. There are, of course, good reasons why external affairs should present particularly severe problems for ideologues. First, there exist commitments entered into by previous administrations which cannot lightly be set aside. Even for Communists the repudiation of all inherited national obligations can be a dangerous and doubtfully expedient course, as the young Soviet Republic discovered. For Democratic Socialists, with their fundamental attachment to gradualist and non-revolutionary methods, such conduct is normally out of the question. Secondly, Labour administrations, like all others, are faced with the elementary truth that much in foreign affairs is beyond the control of any individual Government, however unchallenged its domestic authority may be. Hence many well-meaning resolutions carried at enthusiastic foreign policy sessions of the party’s annual conference have little chance of practical implementation. Finally, there is the difficulty of advance planning in the foreign sphere where the situation is generally less static and predictable than at home. In external affairs, therefore, Labour Governments have been able to do no more than proceed on a pragmatic and flexible course, albeit within the framework of a general declaratory policy of a somewhat doctrinaire character.


Foreign Policy Foreign Affair Labour Government Labour Party Collective Security 
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  1. 1.
    The Communists also believe in World Government, but they argue that it cannot and should not be achieved or even sought until after the fall of the capitalist system in all major states. See Elliot R. Goodman, The Soviet Design for a World State(New York, 1960).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Birkenhead’s 1923 Rectorial Address at Glasgow University is conveniently republished as an appendix to William Camp, The Glittering Prizes: A Biographical Study of F. E. Smith, First Earl of Birkenhead (London, 1960) pp. 207–16. In Birkenhead’s view, Britons, instead of pursuing utopian internationalist objectives, should accept that ‘the world continues to offer glittering prizes to those who have stout hearts and sharp swords’ and should ‘maintain in our own hand the adequate means for our own protection; and so equipped to march with heads erect and bright eyes along the road of our Imperial destiny’.Google Scholar

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© David Carlton 1970

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  • David Carlton

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