Shadowing DFID: Mitchell vs Harman

It’s one thing unique and wonderful that after 1997 all three major British political parties supported the need to focus on International Development and increase aid with a focus not on tying aid to British commercial interests but that of poverty reduction. Thus, unlike in other departments across the dispatch box of the House of Commons, you find very little clashes between Opposition and Government front and back benchers when the topic is about International Development. If they are in agreement with the government team that development is a necessary part of British policy, what is there to debate then?

OK but as the Tories learnt that ID was good, they also learnt how to come up with a plan not to agree with every policy from Labour’s DFID, but their vision was set out. This did not occur under shadow secretaries Alastair Goodlad, Gary Streeter, Caroline Spelman, John Bercow or Alan Duncan. Rather this came about during the last Tory Shadow Cabinet (under of course now PM David Cameron) when Andrew Mitchell was the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development (and as of May 2010, promoted to SoS).

I don’t have time to run through an in-depth review of Mitchell’s performance as SoS, but viewing his written and spoken statements in 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, you’ll se how similar his arguments and issues were compared to his word s today as SoS of DFID (Mitchell was Shaodw Minister since 2005 but even the historical Hansard doesn’t show his records). Personally and rankly, Mitchell and his shadow team didn’t just say “yes, we agree that aid and development is necessary and we agree with Labour”, they pushed for their own vision of development. This came about in the Conservatives report, One World Conservatism. Several of the themes raised there are being implemented by today’s DFID–especially the focus on outputs and not inputs, attempting the Cash-On-Delivery concept by the Center for Global Development, stricter evaluation of DFID aid and others (not all of the points are being successfully met). This however shows that there was and currently is a distinctive Conservative view on International Development. It may not be right (and some parts aren’t), but they key is that in opposition, they had a plan.

Coming to Labour’s turn now in shadowing DFID, after running the department for 13 years. They’ve always boasted that is one of their achievements. I don’t deny it; certainly if there’s any praise for New Labour it’s the creation of DFID. However, unlike the Mitchell shadow years, has the new shadow team been plotting an new policy in development? Sure, there’s the 2010 Labour Manifesto. But what is the distinctive feature coming from the new shadow team? I’ll take the example of Shadow DFID(and Shadow Deputy PM and Deputy Labour Leader) Harriet Harman’s reply to the Bilateral and Multilateral Aid reviews. See the full debate here. Harman’s reply is below:

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for giving me advance copies of it. I welcome the Secretary of State’s declaration that our aid programme is both morally right and in our national interest. As he argues against those who decry aid, he will have our strong support. This is not just about charity; it is about justice, tackling global inequality and fulfilling our responsibilities to the world. We put development at the heart of our agenda because we believe we must struggle for a fairer and more equal world. As things change in the world, as we are seeing in north Africa and the middle east, it is right to review our aid programme, but what should not and must not change is the commitment to spend 0.7% of our national income on aid by 2013. There must be no slipping back on that. Will the Secretary of State tell the House when he will bring forward the Bill to put that promise into law? Will the Secretary of State campaign vigorously to show that our aid matters and saves lives? The girls and boys sitting in classrooms in Nepal, the Nigerian women who no longer have to walk miles to fetch water and the millions of children who no longer die from preventable disease are proof of that. Is not that the way to build support for aid, rather than by announcing as “new” decisions that we had already made? Will the Secretary of State admit that there is nothing new about ending significant bilateral aid to Russia? We ended it in 2007. Grand gestures of shutting down already closed programmes create a misleading picture of aid and undermine rather than support it. He should know better. As tackling poverty depends greatly on trade as well as aid, will he implement the Bribery Act 2010 now? Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that after 13 years in which the Labour Government tripled the aid budget, reversing the cuts of the previous Tory Government, this country led the world in tackling global poverty? Is he not concerned that that leadership, which is so important during a global economic downturn, is undermined by his decision to freeze the percentage of aid as a share of national income for the next two years? Can he tell the House how many lives will be lost and how many fewer children will go to school because of the lost £2.2 billion in aid? Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will protect his Department from raids by other Government Departments? DFID’s budget is for the world’s poorest, and he must not let other Government Departments use his budget as a source of cash. Will he reclaim the £1.8 million that he gave to fund the Pope’s visit? That was not tackling global poverty, nor was his Department’s loan of £161 million to the Turks and Caicos Islands. He has to be strong and stop his ministerial colleagues using DFID as a hole in the wall. In our 2009 White Paper, we recognised the need to help people who suffer the twin problems of grinding poverty and living in an area ravaged by violence. It is right that we co-ordinate our development, diplomatic and security efforts, but our aid programme must not become subsumed in our military and security objectives. Of course, in places such as Yemen it is right that our aid efforts complement our foreign and security policy objectives where they can. We are absolutely committed to upholding our security and countering terrorism, but that must be the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Will the Secretary of State confirm that poverty reduction will remain the focus of DFID money? I welcome the Government’s continuation of Labour’s commitment to the international co-ordination of aid through multilateral organisations, and in particular the Secretary of State’s reaffirmation of the EU’s work, but will he reconsider his decision on the ILO? The Secretary of State’s men-only ministerial team talk a lot about how they will empower women in the developing world. Why, then, has he still not decided how much he will contribute to the new UN women’s agency? Why should the women of the world have to wait for the men in his Government to put their money where their mouth is? On bilateral aid, we welcome the focus on setting aid objectives for each country, but did the recipient countries play a part in that? Will the Secretary of State continue the spirit of the 2005 Paris declaration, which put the developing country in the driving seat and did so much to end the problematic post-colonial relationship between donor and recipient countries? Will he confirm that the decisions to cut aid to very poor countries such as Niger and Lesotho involved co-ordination with other donor countries, to ensure that our decisions do not leave them high and dry? Will he also explain his decision to end aid to Burundi, where there is deep poverty, and which is in the great lakes region, where there is still instability?I welcome the Secretary of State’s continuation of the previous Labour Government’s focus on results and value for money. We made progress towards the millennium development goals, such as cutting maternal mortality and increasing child survival. To say that that was wasting money is an insult to all those who worked on those programmes, and it is to deny the value of those lives that were saved. I hope we will hear no more of that. With more than 1 billion people still living in poverty, the Secretary of State is right to recognise that there is a long way to go. As Secretary of State for International Development, he will have the Opposition’s support. We will back him in his work if he keeps faith with British generosity and our duty to the world’s poor.

The underlined sections are the points I want to focus on:

1) On the issue of raising aid to 0.7 and stating that “There must be no slipping back on [getting a parliamentary resolution passed]”. This of course was in the Labour Manifesto, as well as in the Tory’s and the Lib Dems. But is seems to be the only case that the Labour Shadow Team is putting forward–see the pretty unnecessary Keep the [0.7] promise campaign and my previous post that it’s not the issue about how much you give.

2) Harman then talks in very general terms about the success of aid. I know it’s a “limited by time” parliamentary reply but surely those are general examples that anyone else can give? Where are the sources?

3) The talk about Labour leading the world in development and then asking Mitchell how many lives will be lost i and I quote “£2.2 billion in aid” is not spent. I’m not sure where Harman (and the quite blinded LCID team) got this 2.2 billion from. certainly not from any dedicated development economist. Anyway it is ludicrous to ask a Minister of even an economist to accurately predict the number of deaths if aid of that figure is not spent. Aid giving doesn’t not happen in an unchanging world.

4) She then raises a plausible issue about the securitisation of aid, noting Labour’s last White Paper. But is also fails to note that it was under Labour’s time that aid was securitised–see The Shifting Politics of Aid by Ngaire Woods.

5)She criticises the “men-only” DFID team for not quickly donating large sums of money to the new UN Women organisation. I’m not really sure what she’s trying to imply. Yes, Labour had two female SoS of ID: Clare Short and Baroness Valarie Amos. Is Harman trying to imply that during their time (and Amos doesn’t really count since she was SoS for a very short while), DFID was more pro-women? And if you read the reply given by Mitchell, he stated that there was a)  start-up funding given to UN Women and b) additional funding is conditional upon a plan stated by the organisation. Furthermore, if you read the MAR, UNIFEM (which is merged into UN Women) is ranked poorly. This rather shows Harman’s excessive feminist beliefs. (More seen by this new initiative to focus on women in the developing world).

6) A very good point by Harman on whether the BAR was conducted with the participation of aid recipients.

7) Harman agrees that “value for money” and “results-based aid” is needed. Quite the opposite of the views of her supportive but biased LCID team. And I doubt that a BAR and a MAR would have been conducted if Labour was in power.

The point from all this (save point 6) is that Harman (and her shadow team) have no clear and distinctive alternative development ideas as Mitchell and his team did when Mitchell was shadowing DFID from 2005 to 2010. The main crux from Harman’s reply and the words of her shadow members so far seems to be be this:

1) The Tories cannot be trusted to run DFID.

2) They will use the DFID budget (not stated which budget ODA or administrative) for other means.

3) They will not reach the 0.7 target and will not pass such a legislation.

None of these ideas coming out from Harman & Co. are about development. Granted that Mitchell and the One World Conservatism ideas are not perfect either, but they are far more developed-focused than simply chanting for 0.7 (which again I emphasise: You can give up to 7% of your GNI on aid, but that can’t deliver development if your policies are strict and neoliberal).

During his time as a Shadow Minister, Mitchell focused on his post to the extent that he travelled to developing countries and visited development organisations and conferences. I suggest several points to the Labour shaodw team to truly trun towards development:

1) DO NOT just focus on 0.7 as I’ve said.

2) I recommend that you (Harman or your whole team) follow suit what Mitchell did–visit leading development institutes to get ideas. Mitchell’s results-based and Cash-On-Delivery approach stems from his time at the Center for Global Development, a rather neoliberal think tank. But Mitchell also spoke at the Overseas Development Institute in London. Harman and her team should start by going there.

3) Get a favourite economist. From what I gather, Mitchell’s favourite economist is Paul Collier and therefore the fixation on sending aid to conflict affected countries. (I don’t know much about Collier to criticise him). So get a favourite economist.

4) Extensively visit developing countries.

5) Most importantly, get an alternative development-centred policy. For example, if (as Harman noted) aid recipients were cut out of the BAR, what is your alternative BAR and MAR? What willl you propose instead of Cash-On-Delivery? If you don’t want aid to go to conflict-zones (when you were guilty of it), then what would you do?

These recommendations and all are crucial fo development as a whole and not British politics (again I declare I have no affiliation to any political party in the UK or elsewhere). Lawrence Haddad once posted a blog post titled Does the Labour Party Still care about International Development?. From the performance of Harman’s team so far (and check out my previous post on Rushanara Ali’s political performance as a shadow minister), they only have a vague idea of development: the Tories can’t run DFID and 0.7 is crucial. It’s time that they move to the next level if they really want to show they still do care about International Development.

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4 Responses to Shadowing DFID: Mitchell vs Harman

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