The UK must play its part in helping democracy thrive around the world
We come to the end of WFD’s 30th anniversary year not just reflecting on good work done but also on the many thorns of challenge ahead. Those who believe in the values of freedom, democracy, and open societies cannot be complacent.
The startling truth is that in recent years, democracy has been on the decline. Autocracies are on the rise. Old-fashioned military coups as in Myanmar are still happening. And we have borne witness to the unfolding, full-blooded invasion of a European democracy by its authoritarian neighbour. The decline of democracy has been painful, but it is reversible.
Recently I saw the front line of the authoritarian threat just north of Tbilisi, where Russia occupies 20% of Georgia’s territory, and walked ‘sniper alley’ in Sarajevo.
In the Philippines, I saw how WFD’s programme is helping rebuild democracy from a conflict that has affected the Mindanao region for two generations. For those involved, fair and effective democratic institutions should be the stepping stones to peaceful and prosperous lives. This matters to the UK as well, as we deepen our partnership with the Indo-Pacific region. We are not there just as mercantilists but to help with national resilience – whether against civil or natural disaster, foreign domination, or environmental damage. We can be a force for good, as an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)Dialogue Partner, as a member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, and as a co-worker in more open society building.
After all, evidence shows that a commitment to accountability, inclusion, representation, openness, and tolerance helps to protect rights, reduces the risk of conflict, and increases the likelihood of economic growth. Democracy is good for people and the planet – and that is why we do what we do.
WFD is proud of its cross-party roots. No matter the differences in our parties’ approaches and priorities, agreeing to disagree politely as part of a system of government we all agree on is exactly what democracy means. I thank my colleagues on WFD’s Board of Governors for their service and their understanding of the cause of working with others on shared challenges.
In September 2022, we were honoured to gather in Mr Speaker’s apartments in the House of Commons to celebrate our 30th anniversary and launch our new strategy.
At the time, I said that in a perfect world, WFD would no longer be needed. When WFD was established after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world anticipated a flood of democratic change. In fact, today, just one in five people around the world live in a country rated as “free”. We need to redouble our efforts to get our old democracies in better shape and work with newer democracies.
From inequality to climate change, the world is facing complex problems that need local, national, and global solutions. But whatever the challenge, it is how we work together that makes the difference.
In another 30 years I suspect there will still be autocracies peddling the same half-truth about cutting through red tape decisively, with no accountability or public say. And I very much hope that WFD will still be supporting democratic institutions across the world. Meanwhile we must prepare to rebuild a robust democracy in Ukraine.