Tory failure on sustainable development on show in Britain and abroad

29th February, 2016 1:12 pm


The EU renegotiation may be dominating the headlines but few will know the Government has spent the past four years embroiled in another set of international negotiations.

This process culminated in September 2015 when the UN formally adopted the 2030 Agenda, within which was contained a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals cover a broad range of issues from poverty, health and education to infrastructure, governance and inequality. The challenge now lies in implementing these Goals and in ensuring they make a tangible difference at a national level.

The SDGs differ from their predecessor framework the Millennium Development Goals in one very distinct way: They are universal goals. This means that all countries – whether developing or developed – have a commitment to reaching the goals and all countries have a responsibility to develop national action plans.

While it is true that not all targets contained within the goals will be relevant to the UK, the impact of certain ones should be felt here. Despite this the Government has no plans to implement a national action plan. Instead when questioned at an International Development select committee hearing, Justine Greening said: “the action plan we have is actually delivering on the manifesto, on which we were elected. “

Last time I checked the Government’s manifesto had been used to actively dismantle our march towards progress. For example:

  • Target 1.2 sets a commitment to reducing, by at least half, the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions. Some 13 million people in the UK live in poverty. Tory welfare cuts have actively pushed people into poverty. Last year one million people used food banks.
  • Target 5.5 ensures women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in public life. Women’s representation in Parliament is woefully low at only at 29.4 per cent, lower than 38 other countries including Rwanda, which tops the table at 63.8 per cent.
  • Target 16.10 ensures public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms. Instead the Government has curbed freedoms by watering down the Freedom of Information Act, introducing the Lobbying Bill and proposing the Trade Union Bill.

These targets represent a microcosm of the chasm that exists between what the Government has signed up to in the Sustainable Development Goals and what they are actually doing.

This presents an opportunity for Labour.

The Government’s adoption of the SDGs and their complete failure to acknowledge what this means for the UK can be used as a lever for effective opposition.

Firstly, it is an opportunity to expose the hypocrisy and complacency of Government. The Government sought to play an active role and present itself as a leader in the negotiation process. Now they are lagging behind countries like the US, Colombia, Germany and Montenegro who have already actively sought to understand explore and introduce measures to implement the goals, including updating national and regional development plans. The UK on the other hand has focused only on what DfID can do in developing countries. Labour could co-ordinate a comprehensive review of where the Government is failing to meet the goals and use this as a basis of attack.

Secondly, the integrated nature of the challenges the SDGs seek to address required joined up, multi-stakeholder solutions. The Shadow Cabinet should be working together to present cross-departmental solutions to the challenges facing the UK and putting these into practice where possible. It should also be using the SDG framework to strengthen international and domestic stakeholder relationships with the aim of encouraging cross-sectoral learning and solution building. For the shadow international teams it also provides a platform to engage on national issues through the lens of how international frameworks and complex global challenges affect us domestically.

Thirdly, this is an opportunity to champion where Labour is already making a difference at national, regional and local level and to use regions where we already have power to address Tory failures. Our leadership on issues like the bedroom tax, NHS and early childhood development that relate to the SDGs can be amplified. The local and London elections in May provide an opportunity to help councillors, local authorities, candidates and backbenchers promote campaigns which feed into a central strategy to promote national implementation of the SDGs.

Poverty, inequality and sustainable development are major challenges in the UK, not just in poor countries. It would be disingenuous to believe otherwise. The SDGs can be an asset around which to mobilise national change. Ignoring a set of commitments we have signed up to as a nation is not a way to achieve them and is an affront to UK citizens. Labour has an opportunity, and a responsibility as the Opposition, to act.


Jessica Toale is a political and international development consultant and former political advisor to two Shadow Secretaries of State.

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


  • Comment Featured Debbie Abrahams: Politicians must be closer to communities if we are to tackle the scourge of inequality

    Debbie Abrahams: Politicians must be closer to communities if we are to tackle the scourge of inequality

    The month after the most important election in our lifetime, whether to remain or leave the European Union, we are only just starting to unpick what the referendum result means for the UK, for its different regions, areas and nation states, and for our diverse communities across the country. Crucially we need to understand why the majority of people who voted, voted to leave and what this means for democratic reform. Some have been quick to respond pointing the finger at immigration levels […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Unions Saving Labour in bid to bolster union vote for Owen Smith

    Saving Labour in bid to bolster union vote for Owen Smith

    Saving Labour is trying to rally centrist trade unionists to sign up for a vote in the Labour leadership contest before the looming early August deadline. The online initiative, which was set up in an attempt to oust Jeremy Corbyn, told subscribers there was “one more chance” for sympathisers to get a vote before the veteran left-winger goes head-to-head with Owen Smith. Saving Labour, which has prompted controversy with its demand for “new, fresh, competent leadership”, told members to “act […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Lewis Baston: Electoral reform must be at the heart of reviving our democracy

    Lewis Baston: Electoral reform must be at the heart of reviving our democracy

    The Fabian Society’s democratic reform programme covers, as it should, a wide range of useful reforms that need to take place to refresh – and maybe even to retain – a democratic society and a political system that reflects those values. I am proud to be part of the process and I will commend the whole programme for consideration when it is published (although I would go further on some issues like compulsory voting). But today I shall write about electoral […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Melanie Onn: Let’s harness the passion of children to help change the world

    Melanie Onn: Let’s harness the passion of children to help change the world

    Kids care. We should harness that. Last year one of my local schools produced a film that reached the finals of a national competition. The child film makers asked other children what they liked about their town, what they enjoyed, what they thought was good. The children gave great answers. They liked their school, enjoyed the open spaces, clubs and sports, shops and McDonalds. Then they were asked what they thought could be better. They said they wanted more play times, didn’t like bullies, wanted […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Andy Burnham: I’ll reverse the Tory crisis in Manchester’s NHS

    Andy Burnham: I’ll reverse the Tory crisis in Manchester’s NHS

    Andy Burnham has pledged to reverse the Tory “crisis” in Greater Manchester’s NHS as he promises to introduce a nursing bursary for the city. The shadow home secretary attacked Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a letter for the huge waiting times and worrying drop in standards – while health services in the area fell into greater financial difficulties. He went on to demand the Government “clear up its own mess” before the city’s NHS services were made the responsibility […]

    Read more →

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends