With a deficit to reduce and public services to protect, why should progressives care about Labour’s commitment to increase aid and work to end global poverty?
The answer at the launch of the Labour Campaign for International Development last night was plain and overwhelming – the values that drive Labour to fight poverty and injustice at home are the very same as those that drive Labour to fight poverty and injustice abroad. The same values that work to ensure employment and a living wage in the UK, also work to provide food, water and healthcare in Africa.
Solidarity, internationalism and a commitment to the poor are at the heart of what progressives care about, and should be at the heart of a governing Labour party. And it is precisely when people across the world are suffering most that these values are needed more than ever.
And it makes a difference. In describing his ‘change we see’ moment, secretary of state for international development Douglas Alexander recalled a school in Uganda which abolished fees on the Friday and saw hundreds of extra children turn up eager to learn on the Monday.
One example of the work the Department for International Development (DfID) has done to lift three million people out of poverty every year. And part of the global struggle to support the one billion people who go hungry every night, and to stop the preventable deaths of 9.7 million children every year.
But also both result from genuine political choices. Investment in aid did not have to treble. Foreign and commercial policy could have stayed as the main determinants of how aid was targeted. Britain did not have to put global poverty and climate change at the top of the international agenda when it chaired the G8 in 2005.
These choices were not those made by past governments, and very different political choices may well be made by future ones. They provide choices for which anti-poverty campaigners and Labour members have fought for, and will need to fight for again and again.
Which is what LCID is about – being a voice for the cause of international development within the Labour party. Both recognising the gains that Labour has made, but also being a critical friend when it needs to do better. Some sort of cross between a cheerleader and watchdog. A socialist Anne Robinson with pom-poms perhaps.
And the second bit of this is as crucial as the first. Those in LCID are passionate about fighting global poverty, and have a vision that they believe Labour should share. It’s not about just cheering from the sidelines. More aid, better aid, and global leadership are all called for. As is a commitment to prioritising global poverty across government activities, beyond aid, and beyond just one department.
And finally, we want the government to back an initiative whose time really has come. LCID is supporting a big campaign about to be launched next week to introduce a ‘Financial Transaction Tax’ to support those struggling in recession at home and abroad. This would be a tiny levy (0.05 per cent) on a range of global financial transactions, which – in no way damaging the market – could raise up to $400 billion if implemented worldwide.
This is money that could be used to invest in people and public services at home while fighting poverty and climate change abroad. It would be taking a tiny slice from the casino economy of international finance, and giving it to those who have suffered most from its excesses.
A big campaign on this issue is coming and we want to see Labour on the right side of this movement, showing that it can lead on the big issues internationally – stabilising the financial system, supporting the British people in times of recession, and promoting global justice and prosperity.
Labour Campaign for International Development is a group of Labour supporters committed to international development. To get join the group and get involved in go to https://lcid.org.uk/action where you can sign up to mailings, join the Facebook group, read the blog and follow us on Twitter.
by Steve Cockburn