House of Commons' intervention on progressive diplomacy and soft power in Iran

19 January 2010

MacShane Urges UK to Support Green revolution of Iranian People

Former Foreign Minister Denis MacShane MP has told the Commons that Britain should support by means of so-called “soft-power” the movement in Iran for democracy, human rights and an end to rule by Ayatollahs and extremists.

Below is the exchange with Foreign Secretary David Miliband who had earlier told the Commons that he rejected allegations from Teheran that Britain was behind the democracy movement and that demonstrators were “stooges” of Britain and the West.

MacShane said that it was a difficult balancing act for the FCO and the Foreign Secretary but they should err on the side of a clear support for the slow-burn uprising of the Iranian people which he compared to what happened in Poland in the Solidarity era or in South Africa in the 1980s.

“Diplomacy at moments of change can make two fundamental mistakes. The first is to side with reaction in the name of stability – the Metternich-Kissinger error. This happened in the 1970s when the UK went to the last moment to support the Shah of Iran even when it was clear his time had been and gone.

“The second is to err on the side of caution in the name of realism as a people make clear they want change. Tory foreign policy which helped sustain the apartheid state or refused to stop the Milosevic mass killings in the Balkans in the 1990s are examples of this Conservative foreign policy thinking.

“Iran should be a test-bed for soft power geo-politics. Britain and friends of democracy in Iran should find ways of using a wider panoply of resources – internet, naming and shaming, support for scholarships, cultural and political exchanges, more material broadcast, tweeted and distributed in Iran. If ever there was a case for developing soft-power forces for change than Iran is it,” MacShane said.

Below exchange in Commons 19th January 2010 (Hansard)

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I hope that my right hon. Friend does not flinch from those criticisms of Britain’s involvement in Iran. I would be very proud if the United Kingdom was on the side of the great Persian nation, its culture and the green revolution of young people as they march to overthrow those ayatollahs and their tyrants. Is this not a case whereby so-called soft power has to work? Will he talk to other Departments and other Governments to see what we can do to encourage the people of Iran, like the people of Poland in 1980 and the people of South Africa, to overthrow that tyranny and install democracy?

David Miliband: I think that I am right in saying that on 70 occasions over the past few years the Government have raised human rights issues. Given that the Iranian Government say that they want to give us a slap in the mouth for the vehemence with which we have expressed our opinions, no one can say that the Government have been soft or recalcitrant in putting forward those views.