‘Life or death election’: MM chat to David Wearing on foreign policy, climate change and Tory v Labour differences

This general election campaign has focused on many things; Brexit, misleading information, the future of the NHS and even blocks of ice.

But one topic that has mainly been ignored is foreign policy and the UK’s role in international intervention.

To find out why this should be a larger part of the election campaign, I spoke to David Wearing, a leading researcher and writer on foreign policy and the Middle East.

Wearing feels foreign policy has been left out of the discourse during this election campaign and points specifically to Yemen as a situation that should have been given a greater platform.

“The main one I’d point to is Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe is a man-made humanitarian catastrophe for the most part.

“And the leading cause of that is a blockade being imposed on Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition that’s intervening in the Yemen civil war.”

The British government is involved in the conflict and Wearing explains that without their support the Saudi effort would struggle.

“A huge proportion of the war effort is British supplied fighter jets which the Saudis are operating and those planes can’t fly without our support.

“It’s created the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in the idea that 85,000 children have died.”

The policies of Britain’s two biggest parties, Labour and the Conservatives, differ wildly in relation to Saudi Arabia, as the writer explains.

“Britain’s directly complicit in that because it’s enabling the Saudi war effort and in terms of the choice, you’ve got the Tories who have been doing it for four and a half years and you’ve got Labour who are saying they’ll withdraw support for Saudis immediately.”

It is not just the general election where coverage on Yemen has been sparse and Wearing is keen to praise numerous journalists for the work they are doing around the topic.

However, he feels the higher powers in the mainstream media have failed to highlight the good work done by reporters and to convey the severity of the issue to the British public.

“I find it quite troubling actually, it’s one thing for the government to be doing it, but it says something quite damning about our wider political culture that we’re not even talking about it.

“It’s one thing to help the Saudis kill loads of people, it’s another thing to pretend as though you’re not doing it, to not talk about it.”


Brexit has dominated UK political discourse for the last three years and at times it can feel like it’s the only issue that anyone cares about.

Wearing is well aware of this, but doesn’t buy into the idea that it is the biggest issue facing voters on December 12.

“What’s the worst thing that the British government’s doing? I think people talk about it as if it’s Brexit and Brexit is right up there.

“It’s bad, but the worst thing we’re doing is failing to deal with climate change.

“Because of the impacts on the Global South. Anyone who’s young now is going to live through horrors in their later life, in this century if we don’t deal with it.

“And after that it’s Yemen. I’m not using the words in terms of rhetoric, it’s a literal statement. The fact is that Britain is acting as an accessory to mass murder.”

Climate change has been afforded partial focus in this campaign, with Channel Four airing a special leaders debate on the topic, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson was noticeably absent.

Even so, discussions around the environment have tended to focus on domestic issues, but Wearing feels that ignores the people who will be affected the most.

“One party (Conservatives) is saying net zero by 2050, the other party’s (Labour) saying it’s zero perhaps 20 years earlier.

“When you’ve got 10 years left to deal with climate change or it gets away from you and you’re choosing the government for the next five years, that’s an enormous choice.

“And the impacts of climate change on the state and talking about in terms of foreign policy, the impacts of climate is felt most sharply in the Global South.”

Labour and the Conservatives have very different policies on foreign policy and it’s clear that the level of detail in the former’s manifesto makes a big difference in explaining their wider position.

“The Labour manifesto is a really serious substantive document and a thick document.

“The Tory manifesto is half the length and more than that, when you look at it, it’s a series of fairly platitudes’ bullet points, very thin and in terms of the foreign policy bit specifically, quite different to what Labour is doing.”


On Labour, the Dartford-born writer is impressed, not just by their foreign policy but by their attempts to bring Britain’s history into the discussion.

“(Labour are) trying to propose a kind of more enlightened internationalism that says ‘Let’s focus on diplomacy, let’s de-emphasize military solutions. Let’s focus on climate change and more radically let’s think about our relations with the Global South.’

“And this shouldn’t be radical, but it is, let’s think about how the legacy of empire has shaped our relationship with the rest of the world and what can we do to kind of unstitch that.

“Let’s think about it in terms of how can we use the power we have as a state to promote justice in economic terms or climate terms.

“That level of respect for other people and awareness of history I think is really admirable.”

There has been a lot of talk this election that the country has a choice between the better of two evils with many commentators refusing to endorse any candidate on those grounds.

Wearing doesn’t buy into this idea and believes the differences in both domestic and international policies sets the two leading parties apart.

“A lot of centrist commentators and political journalists making out there’s no choice in this election is nonsense, it is massively consequential in terms of human life.

“It’s a matter of life or death for a lot of people generally. And in terms of the philosophy, the outlook, I think there’s a good subset of difference as well.”

With the election on December 12, Wearing wants you to not only think about how your vote will affect this country, but people all around the world.

“Who governs Britain after next Friday is literally a matter of life or death. So, people should be thinking about that when they vote.”

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