19 May

'Great Britain is still Australia's influential friend' Greg Sheridan, The Australian

Theresa May understood one thing very well when she became British Prime Minister. That was that her countrymen were fed up with slick politicians. They wanted leadership that was closer to their own lived experience, which was more patriotic and less abstract and reflected and celebrated national values and virtues. They also wanted a government that did things directly for them.

Thus she morphed from being a fairly traditional right-wing free-market Thatcherite Tory who had campaigned desultorily for Britain to remain in Europe to becoming a proud Brexiteer who realised the only Brexit that would be real would be a clean Brexit.

She also became-but always was -a proud defender of British identity, including its Christian heritage, though of course with no disrespect to other religions. She became an economic interventionist, promising to cap household power bills, and a one-nation Tory traditionalist offering a kindly paternalistic role for the state in citizens' economic and social lives.

This transformation does not mean that May lacks convictions. Rather, she is interpreting those convictions in the light of the public mood and of what is politically possible. All this will reach its climax in the June 8 British election.

Notwithstanding all the differences between Australia and Britain, this election holds countless lessons for us. For it is true that our politics probably most resemble those of Britain. This holds some important foreign policy truths for us as well. When Tony Abbott was wont to use the term Anglosphere, I used to criticise him for it. It suggests a cultural determinism in foreign policy and it excludes Asia and may even annoy Asians.

Nonetheless, there is a vibrant reality to the Anglosphere. Countries where English is the first and dominant language share more than just language with us. They share deep cultural, political and even ethical values with us. It is something of which we should take intelligent and full advantage.

There are six Anglosphere countries: the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. With each of them we have extraordinarily intimate ties.

The US is our primary security partner, our ally, and has been for many decades. It is the only country that would go to war to protect Australia. It is also the biggest foreign investor in Australia. It is the heart of our foreign policy.

Britain gave birth to modem Australia. We inherited all our institutions from Britain. You cannot understand modem Australia and Australian history if you do not understand British history About 1.3 million Britons live in the EU, a fact often given as evidence of the intimate British-EU relationship. But a slightly larger number of Brits live in

Australia. Britain is the second largest foreign investor in Australia. Our military and intelligence relationship with

Britain, actually a three-way relationship with the US, is astonishingly intimate. Britain might not go to war for us but it would do a lot to help us in any circumstance, just as we would do a lot to help Britain.

Ireland is in every sinew of our being. Of all the nations, apart from Ireland itself, we have the highest percentage of our population with some Irish ancestry. Every aspect of the modem Australian character has a Celtic dimension. With Canada we have an understated intimacy so profound, we share each other's confidential diplomatic cables and look after each other's consular and diplomatic interests wherever in the world one of us is represented and the other not. And New Zealand is our little brother and closest neighbour. It also bears remembering that with all of these nations, except Ireland, we share the Five Eyes intelligence partnership.

None of this is to diminish any other element of our character or our foreign policy. I have spent a lifetime advocating Asia-first foreign policy and apart from the US none of the Anglosphere nations embodies our interests in the way our key Asian partners do. Who but a fool would not rejoice in the Chinese, Indian and other Asian influences in our modem life?

Nonetheless, we cannot understand ourselves without understanding the Anglosphere and the Anglosphere offers us important foreign policy opportunities.

We tend to distinguish the Anglosphere by size with the US at one end and Ireland at the other. A more helpful division is between strategic leaders and followers. The leaders are the US, Britain and Australia. The followers are Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. 1bis is not a disparaging comment about the latter three and certainly does not reflect on their respective glorious histories. But my formulation reflects basic and unalterable strategic circumstances.

The US, Britain and Australia must ultimately provide for their own national security. Canada, Ireland and New Zealand have a permanent holiday from this responsibility because they live next door to Anglosphere nations that shoulder that burden for them whether there are explicit security alliances or not. 1bis means that as well as cultural, economic and historical affinities, the US and Britain offer us an incredible degree of like-mindedness in their governments. We share a world view.

And the contemporary relationship with Britain remains immensely important. Britain is a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council with the power of veto of any resolution. It is the fifth or sixth largest economy. And it has enormous goodwill towards Australia.

These are assets we would be shortsighted to ignore. But their general foreign policy community is less Asia-literate than ours - it's where we can help -just as they routinely know Europe much better than we do.

It is good that Malcolm Turnbull is in the US this week. But it is surely unsatisfactory that he has not been to Britain as Prime Minister. At a time of acute terror attacks and great strategic dislocation in the world, at a time of political flux and newly important cultural and national self-assertion, and above all at a time of Brexit, there are serious opportunities for Australia in this relationship. In this, as indeed in almost all things, our past is not a handicap but an enabler.

Click here for the original article. 

Posted in General by hmaclean@britishchamber.com
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