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21 March 2022

Shadow Secretary of State for Defence John Healey MP talks to War Studies students

Isabella Harden, MA student in International Relations

Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary spoke on the role of the UK’s opposition party in making defence policy

John Healey's visit
The Right Honourable John Healey MP with Dr Hillary Briffa, Lecturer in National Security Studies, Department of War Studies

Last week, the Right Honourable John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, visited the Department of War Studies to talk to MA students. Isabella Harden, MA student in International Relations, writes about his visit.

John Healey sat down with us for a seminar style talk on the role of the UK’s opposition party in making defence policy.

Throughout the conversation, he reflected on the role opposition plays in the UK government, stating that it is, “our constitutional role to hold those in government accountable.”

He compared the dimensions of the geo-political world — as an asymmetric system, dependent on alliances and proxies — to parliamentary politics, arguing that they both have similar aspects.

He also explained that the challenge in opposition is to set, not just follow, the agenda of public policy and debate:

“The big challenge in opposition is not only to be reactive but also to set the agenda, or set the story, through focused preparation.”

Healey sees the role of the opposition party as moving the dial on government policy and public opinion through this agenda-setting function, but also working through broad alliances.

His talk also centred on a more hopeful note for UK politics. He spoke of parliament’s ability to come together in times of crisis:

"There is a significant appreciation, in this time of crisis and conflict, of the main opposition party saying we give full Labour support to the government in condemning Russia, providing military assistance to Ukraine and reinforcing our NATO allies."

After Healey’s initial remarks, he answered student questions on a wide array of national security issues. He offered thoughtful insights on topics including UK-European defence efforts, the war in Ukraine, Britain’s role in NATO, and his role as Shadow Secretary for Defence.

Towards the end of the talk, Healey threw a question back at the audience, asking students to think beyond academic analysis and commentary, about what they would do as politicians, how they would respond to different challenges, what policy or operational decisions they might take.

He finished by saying:

“We have a big job if we want to rebuild [British] influence and take on the role as a force for good in the world.”

John Healey is the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and the MP for Wentworth & Dearne in South Yorkshire, having been first elected in 1997. He joined the shadow front benches in 2015, first serving as the Shadow Housing Secretary. As Shadow Secretary of State for Defence he  leads a team of shadow ministers, responsible for scrutinising government defence policy.

Isabella Harden is a postgraduate student in the International Relations MA from the United States. Her dissertation research focuses on strategies for countering the illegal wildlife trade. At the Department of War Studies, she is an analyst for the Wargaming Network.