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A comparison of Labour & Conservative positions on international development

3 January 2010

With only months to go until the next election, international development has not been high on the political agenda. The Copenhagen summit and the issues raised there relating to international development have brought some much needed attention to the area. But this must be built upon and in particular the threat of a Tory government must be clearly outlined. Since 1997 the Labour government has put international development at the centre of its political focus, particularly with the creation of the Department for International Development (DFID), and has achieved considerable results: lifting 3 million people out of poverty every year, getting around 40 million more children into school around the world, as well as notable advances in combating diseases, with Polio on the verge of eradication.

Andrew Mitchell, Shadow International Development Secretary, has talked of any future Conservative government leaving international groups and programmes if they do not work. The Tory position on the EU testifies to this desire to isolate not only themselves but also Britain from the global stage. The Copenhagen summit illustrated not the weakness of international organisations but how little can be achieved without them. Britain alone, isolated from Europe and seeking a critical relationship with something so central to world affairs as the UN Development Programme will not be able to shape policy priorities on a global level.

Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown were at the centre of the Copenhagen summit, not just because of the Government’s promises on global warming, but largely through the reputation we have built on international development and the high regard DFID is held in around the world.  This can also be seen in the Government’s role in the design of the UN Millennium Development Goals, the G8 summit at Gleneagles and solidifying promises made during the Make Poverty History campaign. This position is something a Tory government with its isolated approach, centred around private initiative, would put at risk and in so doing would endanger the very lives it claims to be concerned about.

The Government does accept the role of the private sector but, importantly, only when it makes sense and is responsible. They do not, unlike the Tories, champion private initiative as a silver bullet to all the world’s problems. Where waste has happened it will be eradicated as Labour will continue to make every pound count to make a real difference.

Andrew Mitchell’s statements on Labour waste stand in stark contrast to the reality of Labour’s commitment to treble the amount of money spent on tracking down assets taken from developing countries and plans to increase transparency. We also, unlike Mr Mitchell, understand that private enterprise is not a solution to problems regarding waste and corruption. The Government will continue to combat issues, such as the inequality of importance given to developing countries at the World Bank, by shaping policy from the heart of the international community,  not by standing on the sidelines contributing, alone, well below our potential.

Climate change is an issue of utmost importance and urgency for the Labour party, who understand very clearly the terrible impact it is having on the poorest peoples in the world. Labour will continue to help these people, not only fight poverty but to help them adapt to climate change and stimulate their growth into green economic sectors. The Government is committed to taking life-saving action in areas where this can be hugely challenging in order to combat inequality and poverty. This is something the Tories, with plans for X-Factor style online votes to decide where aid should go, clearly do not appreciate and do not take seriously enough: something that John Hiliary, the executive of War on Want recognised when he described this proposal as ‘popular gimmickry’. (The Independent, 13 July 2009)

The Labour party, through DFID, recognises the difference that can be made to people through creating local schools and hospitals and training teachers and health care staff, opposed to a Tory vision of aid vouchers to offer ‘choice’ of provider to the poor. An Oxfam spokesman discredited this Conservative pledge aptly in pointing out that, in many poor countries there are no services available, full stop. There is a chronic shortage of teachers, nurses, doctors, infrastructure and materials. What is needed is aid money invested in helping poor countries build and maintain free public health and education systems.”

The Tories fundamentally misunderstand the intertwined problems of global warming and of international development. Diverting crucial funds from international development to climate change will have negative effects for both of these and stands in stark contrast to Labour’s promises to increase its commitments to the world in both of these areas.  The danger of a Tory government which seeks to cut aid spending and divert crucial funds from international development will be to put at risk people’s lives in the most need.

The Government’s policies have saved lives and its promises to increase this commitment will make an incredible difference around the world. This is compared with a Tory party supporting the idea of aid vouchers to subsidise and thereby encourage poor people around the world to enter into private education. As Kevin Watkins, Director of UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report on education, stated, “This is using vulnerable people to advance an ideologically loaded, market-based vision for education, which would exclude millions of kids from school. It completely overlooks the achievements of publicly financed, publicly provided education in countries such as Ethiopia and Tanzania.” (Observer 6/7/09)

Whether it is in the promise to quadruple commitment to fair and ethical trade, to support 50 million people via social assistance or to invest further in transport links in order to ‘join up’ Africa, DFID and the Labour Government are at the cutting edge of international development policy-making. The Government’s plans to not merely state its achievements but to commit further and deeper moving forward is a sign of the party’s central focus on international development. The short-sighted, ill-thought through Tory policies in this area based around cuts and gimmickry will cost lives and put at risk the platform this Government has created for the UK in shaping the agenda on international development.

by Daniel Sleat, Campaigns Intern for Andrew Judge, Labour PPC for Wimbledon

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 4 January 2010 20:22

    Oh my goodness, I want to clap at this line:

    “The Government does accept the role of the private sector but, importantly, only when it makes sense and is responsible. They do not, unlike the Tories, champion private initiative as a silver bullet to all the world’s problems.”

    I couldn’t agree more! I think this a major problem with the Conservatives, the belief that the private sector, in particular a private sector with little constraints placed on it, is some sort of magic cure all. I may be cynical, but ultimately I think the private sectors primary concern is the private sector…definitely not the people.

  2. 4 January 2010 21:48

    Although I think some of these points are both legitimate and important – e.g. whether climate finance would be additional to ODA under a Conservative government, the X-factor style stuff, and the arguably excessive emphasis on private sector led growth – I also think that this argument would be more convincing if it either gave the Conservatives credit for what they’ve got right, or picked up on some areas where Labour could be doing / have done better.

    To say the Tories have a “desire to isolate not only themselves but also Britain from the global stage” – seriously? Come on. These kind of dividing lines just turn people off politics, rather than convincing them. We ought to have the courage of our convictions to have a more nuanced debate based on mutual respect and a common search, from different values and perspectives, for what actually works.

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