by Emma Hoddinott, Yorkshire & Humber rep on Labour’s National Policy Forum
Accountability, the role of the private sector, trade, smart aid, health, governance and a Robin Hood Tax were just some of the topics covered in a two hour public debate on International Aid in Leeds. Though there was a danger of consensus breaking out, the expert panel of Hilary Benn MP, former Secretary of State for International Development; Dr David Hall-Matthews, from the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds and senior Lib-Dem Adviser; Adam McNicholas from the charity Positive Women; and David Taylor, Chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development contributed to a lively discussion.
Over thirty members of the public came to share their views, in an informative environment. There was shared concern over the recent media headlines, for example the Daily Mail article “Why, with public spending cuts, is MORE being lavished on foreign aid which perpetuates war, tyranny and mass murder“, and in part was one of the reasons why the debate was organised. There was full agreement that the International Aid budget should rise, and Hilary Benn gave a convincing speech about how it is very much in our self interest and there is an economic argument for other countries to progress.
Adam McNicholas very much addressed the question of whether International Aid can make a difference, sharing his personal experiences of working in Swaziland. In particular he introduced the concept of sustainability and smart aid through the inspiring story of Siphiwe Hlophe who has grown her organisation, Swazis for Positive Living, from the grassroots and provided a sustainable change.
The final question the audience addressed was whether Aid or Trade was better? The example of China was citied; their economic prosperity doing more to lift people out of poverty than aid. There was also disagreement on where aid should be targeted, with many middle income countries losing out on aid, even though they had some of the highest levels of poverty. The Robin Hood Tax was given as a possible solution to raising more global funds and Dr David Hall-Matthews highlighted that only the Conservatives were opposed to this.
All in all, it was an informed, fascinating and positive debate. It was good to see so many members of the public, many not Labour Party members, give up a couple of hours on a Saturday to discuss a major international issue.