Gadaffi’s gone – now the left should back UK big oil

So Gadaffi has been killed. This has been regarded as the last major hurdle to the road to peace in Libya. It has been widely assumed that once Gadaffi was removed from the picture, his last supporters would disappear into the wilderness and the NTC could finally take full power.

But as previous conflicts have shown, you’ve not just got to win the war, you’ve got to win the peace.

Yet asking Cameron questions as to what he will do to win the peace will be a largely futile exercise. In Libya, we never set foot. Cameron can quite legitimately turn around and say that as this was a NATO led exercise, any subsequent moves to help the NTC stabilise Libya and perhaps even democratise it, should be a job not for NATO, but the UN.

The focus will inevitably turn to the potential for a ground peace keeping force in the short term – to rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, to writing a constitution and to promoting values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Libya.

The question, however, of whether Libya should become a democracy or not is very much for the Libyans. As much as we would like them to make such a decision, we need to be careful of any attempt to superimpose these values. If they are to be adopted, they must be freely adopted by the Libyans. Any attempt to force them could be met with resistance.

However there is something that Cameron can actively do now – and something I hope that he has been preparing for since last February.

Even before the Arab Spring, companies (not necessarily Libyan) that owned Libyan assets were interested in selling them. The Chinese had been present in Libya for some time and in all likelihood are ready and waiting to return and expand their presence in Libya. So have other countries. If those countries obtain ownership of Libyan assets before other companies based in the UK or other countries that share our values, a window of opportunity will be lost.

You see an effective way to instil “soft” but important values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law is by people becoming used to the practice of “hard” values such as health and safety regulations, employment protection rules and consumer protection practices. When people come to value the difference to their lives that these “hard” values make, they come to take an interest in the “softer” values that when adopted, become much more deeply embedded in the fabric of society.

If the Chinese buy Libyan assets, Libya’s new employers will not have the same respect for these “hard” values in the same way as say Shell, BP or Exxon. These companies are very effectively held to account by NGOs when they are not subject to UK or other democratic legislation and for all their faults, are more likely to be run by individuals who support the principles if not the black letter of these values than companies from non-democratic nations. They tend to be much more caring employers than some of their competitors.

Oil companies are the most obvious companies to talk about in the context of Libya but quite frankly, who is going to rebuild the roads, the schools, the hospitals? Hopefully Western companies and in particular, UK companies.

So, on Wednesday at PMQ’s, Ed should ask David “Which UK companies are ready and prepared to commence business in Libya and what has the government done to support them?”.

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