Fareham’s foreign policy

Don’t be daft. Whoever heard of ‘Fareham’ at the G20? Or the World Trade Organisation?

Why not? You may not have traveled much, but have you never thought you might be part of a bigger picture?

But hang on, surely isn’t that why we’ve got all those clever clogs at the Foreign Office?

Precisely. Clever clogs. Thousands of them, mostly caught up in the complex cogwheels of trade agreements and international affairs – all desperately leaning on giant levers in some superior signal box (Grade II listed) hoping to divert the next train crash.

So, your point is?

My point, Sir, is that them up there do far less than half the job, and the rest is down to us – not that they’d admit it. They do what they think is the hard stuff. But none of that works out if we don’t deliver the soft power.

Foreign Policy has two elements – hard and soft. They – that lot up in London – are the hard power merchants, all carrots and sticks, negotiating bribes and sanctions. But we, all of us, have the soft power – the WD40 willpower that eases the rust, bolsters the trust, and keeps the show on the road.

But what’s all that to do with Fareham? And how can anyone talk about refining something that isn’t very obvious? And, anyway, who gave us permission to do any of this?

Stop scratching your head. Go ask your children. Ask them what languages they’re learning at school. Ask them if they’ve seen any foreign films recently or played any games made in Japan or China or India. Ask if they have any mates in Sweden, or Scotland, or wherever. Ask them where on this planet they will choose to study. Ask if they’ve read any international best sellers written by authors from Portchester, or streamed music on their smartphones.

And ask yourself how many friends you know around the world, or where you went on holiday, or what sort of cookbooks are on your kitchen shelf, or where your car was made. Where are the boundaries of your worlds? The other side of Southampton or Portsmouth? Are there dragons over there? Does your Far North start at Winchester or Reading?

Soft Power is all the stuff that the central government doesn’t get. The value of trusted reputations and informal connections. The need to work with neighbours. The value of a critical (and trusted) BBC. Taking a tough line on tax evasion and offshore fiddling. The vital necessity of giving Covid-19 vaccines to impoverished countries not blessed with an NHS. The mind-stretching value of public libraries. The entire point of Overseas Aid. The need to be seen leading responses to the climate crisis – and not just by stopping pollution of the Solent. The value of cutting corruption and sharing our good fortune to help those less fortunate – not least asylum seekers.

So how do we invest in this extraordinary Soft Power of our communities?

It is not that unusual for UK Local Governments to have Foreign Policies. Anyone who has ever thought for a nanosecond about our local economy will know the massive importance of pan-European and wider global connections for inward investment. Some communities (for example, Bristol) have a dedicated senior director of international relations.

Here in Fareham we don’t fare too badly – we have biennial cultural exchanges with a distant part of Brittany, and a not-so-small small town in Germany, and very strong links through the maritime, aerospace and education sectors – but there is so much more that we could be doing, and (this is important) not just for ourselves.

And so much more we could be doing to help the central government with Foreign Policy priorities. Have they not thought about getting the G20 to sort out a global rescue plan to offset Covid-19 damage like the UK did for the 2008 banking bother? Do they not understand that the climate cannot be bribed or sanctioned?

In retrospect, those 1980s privatisations were not, perhaps, such a very good idea – and that’s something we can track and trace through the Covid-19 experience. But that market fad for demutualisation was even worse – particularly now the value of sticking together is blown and we urgently need to rebuild well-regulated cooperative relationships.

Suggestions for refining Fareham’s Foreign Policy are always welcome. Especially as most of our communities may not even realise we’ve ever had such a thing.

OK, I’ll think about it. Arrivederci.

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