The Politics of International Development in major UK Political Parties

NB: A post after a very long time:

It is pretty well known that after the New Labour government won power in 1997, international or global development became a key priority issue of discussion amongst both the government and the legislature. Not only that, all three major political parties–the Labour Party, the Conservatives (Tories) and the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) all had common ground in their party manifestos over the topic of development. (See UK Party Manifestos (incomplete) ) to compare the various party manifestos after 1997.

You would then assume that there’s nothing to debate about development, at least during parliamentary debates, written answers and even ministerial statements. But increasingly, post 2010, there’s been more unwarranted (in my view) from the now opposition (Labour Party) against the Government (the Conservative-Liberal Democrat) coalition.

Its not like the Coalition government has completed ignored development, or disbanded DFID, or make DFID part of the FCO (like the Australians have recent enacted, placing AusAid back under the DFAT). The coalition government has certainly not dramatically reduced the volume or proportion of aid, in fact,it has been held steady in 2011 and 2012 at 0.56% of GNP (a tiny drop from 0.57% in 2010)  and as well has pledged to meet the decades old target of 0.7% of GNI/GDP. Yes, there has been the Bilateral Aid Review and the Multilateral Aid Review, cutting aid to various recipients and International Organisations (IOs). These, however, were in good faith to reform the way UKAid/DFID has been operating. 

The Coalition government of course has room for improvement in its approach to development and ha made mistakes. This of course, is where the Opposition, that is, Labour should come in, criticising them and presenting alternatives, an alternative approach towards development. In comes the annual (am I right?) party conferences. The Liberal Democrats and Labour have held theirs. (Lynne Featherstone didn’t make a full speech on development, but here is her blog entry on her role in the Lib Dem Conference) The Conservatives have yet to hold theirs, so this post may be updated later. Anyhow, this link (took me a while to find an archive copy of it, wasn’t on the party website) in what Ivan Lewis, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development siad to the hordes (maybe) of Labour supporters.

Wait a minute, it’s natural for any political party to claim leadership in development. So I guess there nothing wrong with the line, “A Labour Government which tripled aid, transformed DFID into a world leading development agency and ensured the world wrote off debt.” Yet beyond that, the rest of the speech has a targeted attack against the Conservative Party, (as if they are the only party in government), with an almost personal attack at Justine Greening–““I didn’t come into politics to help poor people.” (Did she really say those words?)

Nothing else in the speech accepting that Labour didn’t always increase its aid per GNI/GDP annual (See the above table again for OECD data of the UK’s aid). No acceptance that perhaps a neoliberal approach towards development, as seen by the 200 White Paper was not really the approach to development. No mention that under Labour, there was no big stringent Bilateral or Multilateral Aid Review (There were some some like Multilateral Development Effectiveness Summary but not on the scale of the MAR or BAR). Instead, Lewis congratulated the conference members on campaigning for the 0.7% target (Did all of them pressure their MPs? There was no formal legislation anyway. And was Lord West, a Labour Peer who wants to cut aid amongst the audience members?

The point I’m making, (and against I hold no political party affiliation), is that yes you can you your party conferences and parliament to show your own record versus the opposing party. But boasting about being the party that build up development and talking mostly about aid increases, doesn’t say much, especially in terms of development impact, especially the impact on development countries. Basking in your own glory doesn’t shift anything in international or global development at all. Saying you were the first in this and that doesn’t mean you are and always are right. Not to say Ivan Lewis only knows how to attack the government and harp on the previous government record. But saying you were always right changing nothing.

In fact, as I wrote this entry, there’s a twitter spat between @owenbarder (Center for Global Development Europe head), @alexevansuk (former special adviser to Hilary Benn, former Secretary of State for International Development) and @RDarlo (Richard Darlignton) (IPPR) regarding Labour, Ed Miliband and the Labour Party’s past and present record on development. Look at Owen’s twitter and take a look (around 25 Sept 2013)

Can we get a proper debate over development in the current UK political sphere?

NB: Again, I must stress, I have no affiliation to any UK Political Party. I have respect for all three major parties.

Update: Here’s a link to Justine Greening’s speech at the 2013 Conservative Party Conference. There’s only a short comment that she wished for a more Tory, less Lib Dem Cabinet. Other than that, no swipe at Labour’s development record or failures. Weak to good defence on the increasingly old 0.7% target. Shades of her Treasury or financial past; she talked more about businesses and their linkage to development. Just ok defence on why aid is important to the UK’s interests. Still, overall better than Lewis’ attack.


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