You are here: General Election 2017: 5 things to ask your local canvassers

22 May 2017

Calling all global citizens - we need your help to bring international issues to the fore!

As polling day draws closer, you may be seeking out the views of your local candidates on the issues that matter to you. Or you might be furiously trying to avoid reams of campaign literature and seemingly endless TV appearances by politicians, only to receive a phone call or visit from party representatives keen to secure your vote.

Whether you find it invigorating or irritating, interacting with party representatives is valuable. The points and questions you raise are likely to be fed back to party headquarters and can have real influence on candidates’ approaches and parties’ campaign priorities.

By highlighting the links between national  and global interests, you can send the message that constituents care about global issues, and that policies should reflect this. You could also trigger candidates to swot up on the UN and put foreign policy further up their agenda.

Do your bit to support internationalism by asking candidates and canvassers the following questions and publicise their answers to your networks (our answers are included!).

1. What will you do to support the United Nations?

For Britain to survive and prosper, it must invest in global solutions. UNA-UK believes in an outward-looking Britain. Whether it’s migration, climate change or threats to international peace, policy-makers should lead a national conversation about how the UK can help address the defining issues of our time.

The UK should champion its rich legacy of internationalism with a sense of pride, from the values that British civil servants wrote into the UN’s founding documents, to the UK’s pivotal role in shaping the international human rights system. Above all, a global Britain should invest in the health of the United Nations – an essential global institution and a lynchpin of a rules-based international system. At this turbulent time in global affairs, when multiple crises are converging, the UN is stretched to breaking point. It needs political leadership and support from the UK.

2. What will you do to invest in soft power and diplomacy?

Politicians must recognise the importance of the UK’s soft power tools if Britain is to sustain or expand its influence on the world stage. This should include championing its 0.7 per cent GNI aid commitment, and increasing funding to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with an emphasis on operations that support work at the UN-level as the UK's role on the Security Council, and relations outside the European Union, become more important.

3. What is your position on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other human rights abusers?

The UK is a major arms exporter that has sold arms to countries with poor human rights records for decades. Since the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty entered into force in December 2014 – a treaty that aims to stop weapons transfers to countries where they might be used to commit abuses – the UK has continued to export arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in a violent conflict in Yemen. According the UN figures, the death toll of the conflict stands at more than 10,000, many of whom are civilians killed by Saudi-led airstrikes.  A further 19 million people are in need of humanitarian aid and are at risk of starvation and diseases such as Cholera.

UNA-UK believes that the UK should immediately suspend such transfers and support calls for an independent, UN-led investigation into violations of international humanitarian law.  It should adopt a more cautious approach to arms exports and begin implementing the Arms Trade Treaty to a consistently high standard, refraining from conduct which undermines the Treaty, including by ceasing arms exports to all countries where there is concern that they will be used to commit war crimes and human rights violations.

4. Will you increase our contribution to UN peacekeeping?

UN peacekeeping represents one of the most effective and proven methods for developing and maintaining global peace and security.

The UK has a commendable track record on UN peacekeeping. However, British troop numbers have fallen sharply over the past two decades: in 1995 the UK was the UN’s largest contributor with over 10,000 UN peacekeepers. This fell to around 300 in recent years. The small increases made recently - troop contributions will soon reach 700 with the opening of a field hospital in South Sudan - have shown that re-engagement is valuable, and that the UK is able to play a greater role. Our military is the fifth largest in the world by spending, and we have a relative lack of other active deployments, meaning there is capacity for the UK to contribute more troops. Yet the UK provides less than one per cent of the UN’s total uniformed personnel. This represents a missed opportunity.

The UK has at its disposal armed forces well suited to provide peacekeepers with the experience, discipline and rapid deployment capabilities that future missions will require: adaptable forces trained to deliver overseas engagement and capacity building, specialist logistical units, and units such as the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment with an unmatched ability to cross rough terrain. We should be using our highly skilled troops to build stability overseas and keep us safe in the process  This means increasing our contribution to UN peacekeeping.

5. How will you ensure that the UK shoulders the responsibilities that come with its place on the UN Security Council?

The UK occupies a privileged position in the United Nations as a permanent member of the Security Council with the power of veto. This position must never be taken for granted and must constantly be earned. The UK can do this by:

  • ensuring that our actions - at home and abroad - live up to our proud record in creating human rights laws and norms
  • showing solidarity by extending a warm welcome to those fleeing conflict and persecution in line with the letter – and spirit – of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention
  • embracing the extra responsibilities that come with being a nuclear power by taking steps to further global disarmament
  • making the protection of the innocent by preventing atrocity crimes the focus of the UK’s membership of the Security Council

This initiative is one of a set of resources UNA-UK has put together to support campaigners ahead of the General Election.

Image: The famous black door of Number 10 Downing Street, London (c) UK Government, used under Creative Commons Licence 2.0.