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]


  • Europe News “We can stop this madness” – David Lammy calls for Parliament vote on Brexit

    “We can stop this madness” – David Lammy calls for Parliament vote on Brexit

    David Lammy has called for a vote in Parliament on whether the UK should leave the EU following Thursday Brexit vote in the referendum. The Labour MP, who campaigned for a Remain vote, posted a statement to Twitter this afternoon saying: “We do not have to do this.” Lammy, who has been MP for Tottenham since 2000 and stood to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, said that as the referendum was not “binding” (meaning there is no legal imperative […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Corbyn to plotters: Challenge me and I’ll run again

    Corbyn to plotters: Challenge me and I’ll run again

    Jeremy Corbyn has said he would stand again if Labour MPs triggered a new leadership contest. Corbyn refused to dwell on the attempt to force a vote of no confidence on his leadership after a speech on immigration this morning, but accepted that some of his parliamentary colleagues “probably want someone else”. Asked whether he would stand again if MPs were successful in forcing a leadership election, he replied: “Yes, I’m here. Thank you.” His comments were met with raucous applause from […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Europe We must remain firmly internationalist in the face of Brexit

    We must remain firmly internationalist in the face of Brexit

    The EU Referendum has produced a ‘Leave’ vote in most of my constituency and of the country. Politics are based on the principle of consent and we have to accept that the popular will is for Britain to leave the European Union. As an elected representative and on behalf of the Labour Party, I respect the result and must commit to its outcome. I am proud of the way Labour fought the referendum campaign. United as a party, I believe […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured The shadow Cabinet is crucial to the future of Corbyn’s leadership

    The shadow Cabinet is crucial to the future of Corbyn’s leadership

    Amid the wreckage of the EU referendum campaign, Labour figures from the shadow Cabinet to the grassroots are now looking at Monday’s meeting of MPs as the crunch moment for the future of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. A discussion of the no-confidence motion at Monday evening’s meeting is likely to prompt a secret ballot on the leader and this could be held as soon as Tuesday. Both sides of the parliamentary party are uncertain, however, of the impact of a non-binding […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Europe We need a left response to Brexit – and Labour can shape the debate

    We need a left response to Brexit – and Labour can shape the debate

    Yesterday was the most momentous of many of our political lifetimes. It certainly was for me. The referendum result has laid bare the deep divisions which fracture the country, but the reality – as anyone who’s knocked more than a few doors over recent years knows – is that the discontent, the disconnect and the fractures have all been there for really quite some time. What I can’t deny is that their exposure, in such a stark form and with such consequence, […]

    Read more →

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends