Introducing a weekend looking at Labour and International Development

2nd February, 2013 9:00 am

Over the next two days LabourList is focussing on International Development. In the first piece the weekend’s curator – Shadow International Development Secretary Ivan Lewis – introduces the series:

It’s great that LabourList has given us this opportunity to debate the vital issue of international development, which is so fundamental to Labour’s core values. I have asked some of the best and most committed people in our movement to make contributions and give their unique but complementary perspectives.

A global debate is just beginning which will have profound implications for the future of the world and the UK’s place in the world. The debate centres around what new approach to aid and development should replace the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) in 2015.

This week I set out Labour’s vision which reflects Ed Miliband’s commitment to big economic and social change at home and abroad. It also reflects the fact that we are living in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. Our future success as One Nation will significantly depend on our understanding that this is a reality not a choice both in Europe and the wider world. Trade, jobs, migration, the cost of energy and food, the impact of climate change and our security are all profoundly affected by factors and alliances beyond our borders.

One Nation: One World is our best and only route to fairness and prosperity in the future. But our values mean globalisation must work for the many not the few and we have a particular duty to reassure people we understand the insecurity this rapid change is creating. In the 21st century to be a British patriot is to be an internationalist.

Labour’s record on development is indisputable. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown not only substantially increased the aid budget and enhanced DfID’s status as a Cabinet level department, they provided global leadership on writing off debt for the world’s poorest countries and securing enhanced funding for the MDG’s. Having a Labour Government in Britain made a groundbreaking difference to the fight against global poverty.

As I laid out last Tuesday, our vision for the future starts from a clear set of values. A new global covenant for development must focus on social justice and human rights with a new imperative to tackle inequality, support sustainable economic growth and require good governance newly defined as the conduct not only of governments in developing countries but also donors, multilateral organisations such UN agencies and the World Bank and multinational companies. It must be developed through an equal partnership, and with the voice of the poorest and marginalised heard during the consultation process. Gone are the days when the G8 countries or new powers i.e. Brazil,China and India should seek to impose their will. Our overarching aims should be that by 2030 we will have eliminated absolute poverty, begun to reduce inequality, protected scarce planetary resources and ended aid dependency.

We propose replacing the existing Millennium Development Goals with a new “Social contract without borders” which reflects the challenges of the next 20 years, builds on the successes of the existing MDG’s and also addresses weaknesses including a focus on access to services not quality, a lack of progress on women’s rights and widening inequality. To ensure a new focus on inequality progress should be measured by improvements for the poorest 20% in every country, the bottom billion living in mainly conflict ridden states and gender equality. This will also require a significant review of DfID funding to ensure it is focused on the poorest.

We will also place a new emphasis on improving labour standards both as a key element of our job creation objective and as part of DfID’s contracts with private sector organisations. As part of our commitment to responsible capitalism all private sector companies receiving DfID funding would be expected to demonstrate a commitment to sustainable enterprise and decent work throughout their supply chain. We will be developing this agenda with Trade Unions and businesses as part of a new social partnership for development.

We welcome the fact that the Tory-led Government are honouring Labour’s commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on aid but hope they will put right their broken promise and ensure this is enshrined in law. But it should also be a core part of centre-left policy to enhance dignity, self independence and self determination by ending aid dependency. Now and in the future other sources of revenue will become increasingly important through foreign direct investment, increasing diaspora remittances,  more effective tax collection and hopefully a global crackdown on tax avoidance and corruption. Climate finance and a financial transaction tax developed with as much international support as possible should also be an important  part of a new funding mix. The irony of those mainly on the right who advocate cutting the aid budget is we will only end aid dependency by 2030 if other countries match the UK’s commitment and increase aid now alongside major economic and social reform.

As Ed Miliband has frequently said we will not win the next election if we are reduced to being simply a party of protest. We must offer people hope that there can be a more optimistic future even in the face of the austerity and grotesque unfairness being perpetrated by this Tory-led Government. That is why our vision of a new social contract without borders is so important. But we should also make it clear that the often repeated view that there is now a consensus on development is mistaken.

Notwithstanding the genuine commitment of some individuals, for the Tories aid was a political tactic to detoxify their brand. For us it is central to our DNA. They see aid as charity. We see development as being about social justice and human rights. The Tories are reducing DfID to a distributor of aid not a galvanising force bringing Government Departments together to create a strong, coherent UK development policy able to exercise global influence.

David Cameron is struggling to provide global leadership on the issue because he is unable ideologically to acknowledge the importance of tackling widening inequality, and as we have seen with domestic economic policy the Tories still believe in “trickle down” economics and fail to understand in a global economy, it is essential for Government’s to have active industrial strategies supporting business if we are to have growth.

Unlike the Conservatives (the clue is in the name!) we didn’t come into politics to explain the world as it is, we came into politics to change the world. The new framework for development is far more than a debate about aid. It will determine whether the world has learned the right lessons from the financial crisis and is up to meeting the challenges of the future. If we are able to build alliances with other centre left parties and shape the debate 2015 could be the year when the world commits to a fairer and more sustainable future. It will require a combination of people power mobilised in every part of the world, from every section of society, coupled with political will.

Let us work together to make sure it is also the year when an incoming Labour Government can once again ensure the UK is leading the charge for progressive global change.

Ivan Lewis is the Shadow International Development Secretary. This post is part of International Development weekend on LabourList – you can join the debate on these issues at YourBritain

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • PaulHalsall

    In fact, thanks to the LibDems, I think the Coalition has been quite good on this issue of international aid, and will provide cover when we are in power.

    Very many of the working class people I live amongst do not support aid, and see it as one of the reasons benefits are being hit hard. “We should help our own first” really is a common opinion.

    It takes quite a lot of moral and information education to see the morality and necessity of overseas aid, and frankly, I don’t see an easy way of getting that over on the doorstep. In that way it is similar to immigration, where low information voters seem to accept The Sun and Daily Mail’s terrible coverage.

    We should support both Aid and a certain level of immigration (and end the cruelty), but we cannot fight the election on these issues.

    [I would suggest that there is now a certain panic among the Tories about the upcoming effect of welfare reforms, bedroom taxes, and council tax impositions – and we can fight on the One Nation label against the strivers/scroungers Tory play.]

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      I think the easier argument to make “on the doorstep” if you are campaigning is that international development – if done with judgement and discrimination – is in Britain’s national interest. That is an argument that will appeal more widely than some form of warm and wet socialist international fuzzy-ness.

      When a sensible Prime Minister comes along (perhaps she has not yet entered politics, or is still at school), there should be a combination of foreign, defence, trade, aid and environmental policy into a super-Ministry, allowing Britain to deploy a co-ordinated and gradated range of powers ranging from smart to soft to collegiate to coercive and hard, in our dealings with the world beyond our little island. The current system called “the Cabinet” does not operate so intelligently.

      • Sometimes it isn’t, though, and its important to be honest.
        I do think there has been considerable improvement in the last few years, but there has certainly been a lot of money wasted in the aid business – too much duplication, too many well meaning initiatives which didn’t get to those who needed the help

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          Goodness Mike, are we in agreement? This is rare.

          I think there should really be a “hard-nosed” attitude to spending British taxpayers’ money by the civil servants in DFID. The top-level question should be “how is this spending in Britain’s national interest?”. If they cannot demonstrate that, then no spending. The onus should be on the civil servants to positively prove a case for expenditure.

          That is easy. More challenging, comparisons of differing aid demands. Put a metric to them, so that a country “quite disadvantaged” can be compared with a country “very disadvantaged”, but also “quite-pro Britain” against “potentially dangerous to Britain if it goes wrong”. In essence, fund what demonstrably helps us, and do not fund what is useless to us.

          It would also be instructive for the Minister and senior Permanent Secretary to appear on the news once a year to justify what they are spending our money upon, when there is so little to be spent upon ourselves.

    • Quiet_Sceptic

      I think that is rather arrogant, support for aid is due to political opinion rather than intelligence.

      You can make a strong argument that trade is what matters, not aid. The countries that have lifted themselves out of poverty have done it by building up their economies, just as the UK did when we industrialised. The elimination of poverty, public health and education is the dividend from a successful and growing economy.

      • PaulHalsall

        I can see it might read as arrogant. That really does not bother me. I think I am reflecting the views of the people in the council estate in Mr. Lewis’ constituency in which I live.

        • aracataca

          On a completely different (and totally irrelevant) point Paul. What is he like as an MP? How is he thought of in the town? (IYO)

      • But Paul didn’t say people opposed to aid were unintelligent, he said they were “low information voters”. As the TUC has discovered with benefits, the more people know, the more they oppose what the Government is doing. Our problem is getting people the information they need to make an informed choice.

  • Guest

    In reply to aracataca.Ivan has been my MP for nearly 16 years now.He has always been very approachable and very helpful.Not only to myself,but to many,many people in his constituency who I know.

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