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Read Douglas Alexander’s speech to LCID

1 July 2010

On Tuesday 29 June, Douglas Alexander spoke at an LCID event about the future of International Development. You can read the full text of his speech here:

“Thank you David for that kind introduction – and for the valuable work you and other members of the Labour Campaign for International Development have undertaken in recent months, as well as during the election campaign.

I know that you will continue to provide both valuable policy thinking and campaigning enthusiasm on these issues in the months and years ahead.

As many of you will be aware, it is now almost five years to the day since the remarkable Make Poverty History march took place in Edinburgh, and the Live 8 concerts took place around the world.

That day in Edinburgh, for me personally – and I’m sure for many of you – was truly inspirational.

Returning to a city where I had lived for a decade, pushing my daughter in her pram, carrying my son on my shoulders – and I’m proud to say supported by seven bus-loads of people from my Paisley constituency – I had the sense of seeing a familiar city in a new light.

The view of Edinburgh castle from Princes’ street – a view I’d seen a thousand times before – was, on that day, transformed by the banner that spanned the length of the castle, and declared our common mission: “Make Poverty History”.

A sea of white filled the Meadows, and then spilled out into the streets of Edinburgh to create a symbolic white band around the city.

Around the world, thousands more gathered in fields and stadiums to join the millions wearing white bands – demanding that the G8 leaders take action.

As I walked with that vast crowd past the Assembly Hall, I had cause to also remember another demonstration which had taken place 17 years earlier.

I was a student then, protesting outside that same Hall as Margaret Thatcher arrived to address the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Thinking about those two very different demonstrations – separated by almost two decades – yet in that single place, I was struck by the transformative power of politics, and by the determination of people inspired by a just cause.

But most of all, I was struck by the way in which the events of that sunny July day five years ago swept aside any notion that there ever was ‘no such thing as society’.

Five years on, we find ourselves in sadly less auspicious circumstances.

But nevertheless, with much progress to recognise and celebrate.

And so, in my remarks today, I would like to cover three main areas:

Firstly, the progress I believe the world has made since 2005, and that I am proud we helped deliver as a Labour government;

Secondly, what I think the major challenges are that we now face both domestically and globally following the summits of this past weekend;

And, thirdly, my assessment of the early days of this new government and where I think we will need to watch them most closely.

Since that declaration of global solidarity in July 2005 – which many have called the ‘high water mark’ of the global anti-poverty movement – I believe it is fair to say that we have seen significant progress, albeit not enough.

A Labour government led the way by cancelling debt, trebling the aid budget, and becoming in the words of the ONE campaign the “leader in the G7 on aid effectiveness”.

But we have also seen turbulent times and new challenges emerge.

The world has been engulfed as never expected by the greatest financial and economic crisis for generations – directly putting millions back into poverty, and creating pressure for donor governments across Europe and the world to myopically, but predictably, slash aid funding.

At the same time – the urgency of tackling the climate crisis has become ever more evident – and yet the international will to do so ever more elusive.

A world trade deal that could lift millions out of poverty has remained in the deep freeze.

Conflict and fragility has continued to plague and stunt the progress of too many lives.

The creaking international system itself has been placed under ever greater strain.

And here, in this country, despite the warm words about a ‘consensus’ let us be brutally honest about the context we now face.

I genuinely fear that behind the words from this coalition on the headline aid promise, there remain many hidden threats.

The context of declining public support for aid, likely to continue in the coming period of divisive and damaging cuts in domestic spending, will provide challenges for the development movement greater than I think many realise.

It will be a particular challenge for the new government – one large part of it still deeply rooted in a particular dogma – to resist the temptation to divert our aid from its proper purposes, implement ideologically driven schemes, and to take a headline grabbing approach to ‘prove themselves’.

An X-Factor style online vote for which countries get aid, for example, doesn’t sit well with a promise to increase the effectiveness of our aid.

And they will hardly be helped by the significant number of aid sceptics now filling the government benches.

I will say more about the new government, but let us first look back at what today we should celebrate.

The march of progress is not inevitable.

It requires political choice and political leadership.

Bravery some would say.

So as we face uncertain times, let us recall what political choice and leadership can deliver.

The agreements made at Gleneagles, made in part because of the great public expectation which was generated on the G8 and developing country governments by the global anti-poverty movement have contributed to real progress for some of the world’s poorest people.

The recent DATA report highlights:

Malaria – where the world has exceeded the Gleneagles goal of delivering 100 million bed-nets, with 200 million delivered between 2006 and 2009.

Child Survival – where the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) alone has averted 5.4 million future child deaths by working together with donors and developing country governments.

Education, where the savings from debt relief, development assistance, and scaled-up prioritization, means that 42 million more children have enrolled in school.

However, as Oxfam has pointed out, around 40 per cent of the promised aid increase made at Gleneagles has not been delivered.

This means there is as much as a $20 billion hole in the promise the G8 made back in 2005 – enough to put every child in school or stop millions of children dying of malaria.

The 60% we helped deliver has made a huge difference – but the shortfall is literally costing lives.

Despite the inevitable ups and downs of the recent election campaign, there are always chinks of light that remind you why you are in politics, and what a difference you can make.

On a particularly difficult day – and trust me there were a few of those – during the campaign, I was shown a story in the Guardian.

It came from a country that as recently as 15 years ago faced the deadly maelstrom of conflict and poverty in its most acute form – Sierra Leone.

It reported on how the government of President Koroma, with the support of NGOs and our Labour government, had been able to make healthcare free for pregnant women and children in his country.

Literally thousands of lives will and may have already been saved by this simple leap forward.

That is why it was so urgent for G8 leaders to focus and take action on maternal mortality and child health at their summit in Canada this past weekend.

Every year, approximately 350,000 mothers die from complications during child birth and 8.8 million children die before their fifth birthday.

But the results of this G8 summit were woefully inadequate – with Oxfam describing the initiative launched as “lower than our lowest expectations”.

Given the context – I was not surprised.

But I was still outraged.

Summits often do not deliver all that they should.

But David Cameron needs to think long and hard about whether he believes that the package he and other leaders agreed there was even remotely adequate.

Blaming other leaders and using strong words is not enough.

Britain should be both leading by example and putting in the hard graft.

It is questionable whether the new government is doing either.

And on top of this there was a serious step backwards.

Save the Children were moved to describe as truly ‘shameful’ the dropping of the historic Gleneagles targets to increase aid at the G8 summit.

Gleneagles, it should be remembered, took place at a difficult time too – when minds could easily have turned from such global challenges, given the tragic punctuation of the summit by the taking of innocent life on 7/7.

But despite those terrible events, and the unwillingness of some leaders to make any form of commitment, the efforts of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, buoyed by millions of campaigners around the world, still achieved the historic promise to increase aid by $50 billion by 2010, with $25 billion of this going to Africa.

And they agreed crucial steps forward on debt relief.

What a contrast with Muskoka and Toronto.

David Cameron, writing in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper shortly before this weekend’s summits said:

“I come to the G8 and G20 in Muskoka and Toronto with a clear commitment to make sure these summits deliver for people. Too often, these international meetings fail to live up to the hype and the promises made.”

Yet the new Prime Minister seemed all too willing to let other G8 leaders sweep their failures under the carpet by dropping the historic Gleneagles agreements from the final communiqué.

We are told that during the negotiations, Downing Street admitted to the Guardian that the Prime Minister had simply “not fought” for the commitments to be included.

As Oxfam’s Mark Fried said:

“The only promise that counts is the Gleneagles one to increase aid by $50 billion by 2010 and that is the one they have abandoned today.”

So can David Cameron tell us how many phone calls and meetings he actually held with other world leaders about maintaining the Gleneagles promises? Or did he merely give up?

His silence has been deafening.

And what of the G20?

I will of course welcome any attention that the new and larger grouping pays to international development and tackling poverty.

I believe it is vital that as the G20 discuss the wider global economic architecture, that the concerns of the poorest countries are forefront, and that issues like tax or the regulation and taxation of the financial markets are treated as development issues – in the way we attempted to do at the London G20.

I do however have some skepticism about another forum the “Working Group on Development” being created under the auspices of the G20 at the same time as the G8 has abrogated its responsibilities.

The G8 and G20 outcomes and discussions of this weekend highlight starkly some of the key contextual challenges we face.

Difficult and fragile economic times – which rightly must occupy significant attention – but where development and the poorest countries can be easily squeezed out.

International institutions and groupings which remain not yet fit for purpose.

A worrying, if unsurprising, change in public opinion on issues like global poverty and climate change, and the attendant ability of the global movement to connect with people in these economically tough times.

Five Years on we have no Live 8.

No Make Poverty History marchers in Edinburgh.

Instead the likes of Dambisa Moyo, Melanie Phillips and other commentators stalk the airwaves, column inches and blogs offering their trenchant views.

There also remain serious policy challenges.

Challenges, which unless we adequately respond to them, based on both our moral values and common interest, mean that we will both fail to do right by the bottom billion in this world, and continue to sow the seeds of instability and un-sustainability.

We need to reach beyond the easy myopia which often besets publics and politics in difficult times.

To step back and recognise the nature of the threats we still face.

This is why I argued in our last White Paper in 2009 that we must not turn away in fear and isolationism.

Whilst we rightly focus on tackling this global economic crisis today – we must also take the long view – as people like Nick Stern have done on the economics of climate change.

We need to help fashion a world economy which is better regulated, greener and fairer to all. Where growth and prosperity is generated, and poverty alleviated – but not at the expense of people or the planet on which we all depend.

We need to create a world where the skills and energies of the private sector are harnessed for the benefit of all, but where their excesses are not treated as an acceptable by-product.

Where we resist an easy retreat into protectionism, not pretending that globalisation has not happened – but at the same time ensuring that more open trade delivers fairer outcome.

Where we help tackle the conflict and insecurity which blights the lives of so many ordinary people, particularly women and girls, with a broad based concept of stabilisation, conflict prevention and peace-building – that treats security and justice as basic services.

And where we maintain our promises to deliver the aid which catalyses development and realises rights – puts children into school, helps mothers have safer births, and which ensures clean drinking water is available.

None of our goals can be reached by spending aid alone – though supporting basic building blocks through our aid remains essential.

None can be reached by the UK alone – but the UK must play its part.

None can be reached without a proper analysis of conflict, politics and sustainability – nor without understanding the impact of gender.

None will be reached unless we take a transformative and holistic approach to development, looking at the wider global economy and issues like tax.

That is why I remain sceptical about some of the approach offered up so far by the new government – who in the past have failed to provide an adequate answer to many of these challenges.

I am also concerned if the development sector here in the UK thinks it should simply lower its standards and expectations, because the Tories are in power.

We need to hold them to account.

Firstly, on aid – both in terms of volumes and how it is used.

They have been at pains to repeatedly insist in recent weeks – that they fully intend to meet the 0.7% aid target by 2013.

But let’s look a little closer.

The Tories matched our pledge of legislation in the first session of this new parliament.

Yet despite repeated questioning, we still have no timetable for legislation, and merely the mention of a ‘parliamentary motion’ in the Queen’s Speech.

Why this should be the case, when a draft Bill had already been scrutinised by the all-party international development select committee in the last parliament remains a mystery to me.

Then there is the question of the definition of aid.

Andrew Mitchell repeatedly says how he intends to keep the definition of aid in line with the OECD DAC guidelines.

But we always took a more restrictive interpretation of those guidelines.

For example – we didn’t think it right to include student or refugee costs in our aid.

No assurances have been forthcoming from Mr Mitchell on this front.

Secondly – there is the question of where and how aid money is in fact allocated within Whitehall, and on what it is spent on.

We had always taken the view that the majority of our aid money should, very naturally, be being programmed and allocated by DFID – with a small but legitimate portion allocated by departments like the FCO and DECC.

And so we were joined, by the now Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore of the Liberal Democrats, in warning during the election campaign of the very real ‘danger’ – that the Tories’ lack of commitments on limiting the use of aid as climate finance, or for military or security linked work – meant that large sums could end up being diverted, but still count as ‘aid’.

Sadly – the Lib Dems appear to have completely rolled over on these crucial issues.

In the coalition ‘Programme for Government’ we see no mention of additionality in climate finance – despite the fact that climate finance is such a crucial issue in the climate negotiations.

Nick Stern has pointed out that unless we make the investment in tackling climate change and its impacts now we risk even greater costs in the future.

But we must not merely ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ by diverting significant amounts of aid, from for example ensuring better healthcare in poorer countries.

That is why we had made clear in government that from 2013 we would ensure additional sources of climate finance were provided, with no more than 10% of our aid spending being allocated to this purpose.

And the Lib Dems had in the past called for complete additionality.

But, like their promises on VAT domestically this now appears to have been another promise they have conveniently and shamelessly forgotten.

Worryingly too – we see the Tory proposal for the highly unclear ‘military led stabilisation force’.

We already took a pragmatic but appropriate approach to stabilisation – and recognised the complementary but distinct roles which development, diplomacy and defence should play in places like Afghanistan.

The risk is that by over-militarising our concept of stabilisation, the wider analysis of conflict prevention and management, and the restoration of security and justice, which we sought to place at the heart of our White Paper in 2009, could be lost.

And, leading charities have highlighted concerns about a potential blurring of military and humanitarian or development operations in Afghanistan under such a force.

Whatever this government may claim in headline statements, or say about transparency – the problem is in the small print.

The Tories must not be allowed to divert our attentions, while they divert our aid.

Thirdly, it will come as no great surprise to me, if one of the early acts of this new government is to abandon our commitments to promoting free health and education.

Instead of steps forward such as those I described in Sierra Leone – we could see ill-advised and ideological voucher schemes, or other forms of private subsidy that fail to catalyse wider changes, and are more likely to exclude the marginalised and the poorest.

And even if Andrew Mitchell talks about the importance of education, Liam Fox’s ill-judged comments that we were “We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country” reveal the tenor and attitude of some of his Cabinet colleagues to international development.

Fourthly, there is the question of effort and engagement.

As I have already touched on in relation to the G8 Summit – when it comes to the level of international negotiations and diplomacy it requires real and sustained effort and personal engagement at the highest levels to make a difference.

So it is again revealing that when questioned in Prime Ministers Questions last week, David Cameron could not confirm whether he had even spoken to President Zuma, other African leaders or even other donors before the crucial summit on education on 7 July.

Finally, Andrew Mitchell has launched a review of multilateral and bilateral funding from DFID.

This in itself is no bad thing, and a process we regularly engaged in.

Yet, as with much announced by this new government – there was already pre-briefing going on to the newspapers that some players were going to do well – and others not so.

I question whether the government will take a truly balanced and entirely merit-based approach to the review on that basis.

Can we really trust a eurosceptic Tory party to properly assess the relative effectiveness of the World Bank versus the European Union as a multilateral partner?

Andrew Mitchell in one of his first speeches as Secretary of State earlier this month talked of exporting Cameron’s “Big Society” to the global level.

He says that his “approach will move from doing development to people to doing development with people – and to people doing development for themselves.”

The idea that DFID, or indeed many of Britain’s leading charities ‘do’ development to poor people, bears little relationship to reality.

Country-led development was a principle Labour established when DFID was created, and that we have endeavoured to put into practise.

Andrew Mitchell talks of ‘change’ – but the truth is that I believe that the Conservatives have found that much of what they see in DFID actually works well. Indeed as he admitted:

“I have been struck by how much DFID contributes to Britain’s global reputation. How it has broken new ground in international development and often succeeded where others have failed.”

I was also struck – by how insubstantial his first major overseas speech was – to the Carnegie Foundation in Washington this week, despite the vitally important topic of gender and development it sought to address.

Indeed, I can’t recollect someone travelling so far to say so little.

These speeches have begged more questions than they answered.

Where is the clear forward agenda – aside from a few headline grabbing initiatives or re-packaging of things we were already doing?

With just weeks to go, where are the clear objectives and red lines for the UN Summit in September? As opposed to vague agendas?

Where is the detailed vision about how tackling climate change and promoting development could be aligned in the future as opposed to vacuous platitudes.

He talks of the importance of measures ‘beyond aid’.

Yet where is the strategy on the crucial issue of tax and development – such as how we could take forward steps on multilateral and automatic exchange of tax information or measures on country by country reporting?

Leadership in international development involves more than having a bonfire of straw men.

So, let us be clear.

Even from opposition, it still falls today for Labour to offer the intellectual leadership and global advocacy on international development.

The challenge facing us today is to both defend the progress we have seen, and attempt to go further, but to do so in the tough environment of the post-financial crisis world.

So let me conclude, by appealing for your help, and by urging that we must re-energise a global movement to secure those ends.

We must not settle for second best. To set our standards low.

I want the Labour Party and groups like the Labour Campaign for International Development to be at the heart of that process here in Britain, and to work with our sister parties abroad to do the same.

We must hold this government to account.

And we must work with those of like mind, by reaching out to those who share our passion for global justice.

So let me return to where I began this evening.

I truly believe that what 2005 taught us was that when a dynamic, independent and vibrant global civil society campaign, connected with politics and politicians who instinctively shared the same values and ambitions, even when constrained at times by the nature of government – great things can be done.

Some will contest this point.

But I think it is important to recognise that our delivery on our aid and development promises was made by choice – not chance.

By people like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Clare Short and Hilary Benn – buoyed by the knowledge that thousands were backing them.

Times are tough – but we can make that difference again.

And to that task, let us re-dedicate ourselves tonight.”

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