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Andrew Mitchell’s boring comments on Labour’s record mask his own shortcomings

21 November 2011

Yesterday the Huffington Post published an interview with Andrew Mitchell in which he criticised Gordon Brown and Labour’s record for not being focused enough on results;

“There was a lot of focus on huge headlines with huge sums of money. The key thing is that the results are delivered on the ground.

Going on a day trip to Maputo to announce half a billion dollars on education was something completely loved by Labour. But what’s much more important is the outputs of that. That’s the big difference between the coalition government and Gordon Brown.”

We’ve heard it before from Mitchell and it’s pretty tiring – our record speaks for itself. The OECD recognised DFID under Labour as the world leader on aid effectiveness, and by the time we left office it was permanently lifting 3 million people out of poverty, had help 40 million go to school and water and sanitation services for 1.5 million. Huge sums of money delivering huge results.

There was indeed a big difference between the coalition government and Gordon Brown. And we’ve detailed it in this week’s Total Politics magazine – leadership. Because beyond the commitment to ring-fence the aid budget this government is failing to show the vision, ambition and leadership Labour did. At summit after summit Brown and Blair lobbied and cajoled other world leaders to act – from the aid commitments at G8 Glenagles in 2005 to the debt deal in 2000 to the London G20 summit that avert a global depression in 2009.

The contrast could not be starker – Cameron at his first G8 “simply did not fight” for the Glenagles commitments to be retained, sent Nick Clegg to the UN MDG Summit with no clear agenda, and isn’t going to bother to attend the Rio+20 climate change summit. Worse still, despite publicly backing an Robin Hood Tax if only it were global there is categorical evidence from NGOs and foreign governments that the UK lobbied hard against such an agreement being reached at the recent G20 summit in Cannes. Andrew Mitchell’s ‘Beyond Aid’ speech last week was notable only for what it didn’t contain (i.e. the words ‘we have nothing to offer in the title) than what it did – no mention of the FTT, action on tax havens, or the inexplicable delaying of the Bribery Act).

Turning to education, Mitchell cites as an example of his ‘results based approach’ a pilot in Ethiopia to promote girls education called the ‘Girls Education Challenge Fund.’ But when I met with a coalition of civil society campaigning for education in Bangladesh, they expressed real concerns the fund was too focused on the short term – they want long-term funding to boost their government’s ability to build a national education system for all, not what they see as another ‘flash in a plan.’

And there are also growing concerns over this government’s idelological preferance for private sector involvement in education. Despite growing support – from India to Sierra Leone – for publicly funded health and education systems modelled on our own, the Conservatives are pushing for private sector provision in DFID’s new private sector strategy. And at the recent Global Partnership for Education replenishment meeting in Copenhagen, DFID Minister Stephen O’Brien announced that DfID would be supporting a range of initiatives aimed at expanding access to low fee private schools, including a voucher scheme reaching 200-300,000 children in Kenya. This is deeply worrying and must be opposed.

The interview with Mitchell ends by discussing the growing impact of climate change on development. Mitchell’s passion for the subject is not in question. His government’s polices are. Few would argue this was still the ‘greenest government ever.’ Mitchell’s ‘Beyond Aid’ speech mentioned a few worthy initiatives but there was still nothing on where the money to help poor countries adapt to climate change will come from. It must not come from the existing aid budget – to do so would see poor countries effectively paying for a problem they did not cause. That is why Labour imposed a cap on climate finance spending by DFID, which from 2013 would have prevented the department spending more than 10% of its budget on carbon reduction. The Coalition Programme made no such commitment, leaving open the option of either transferring the Department of Energy’s £250m annual budget for international climate finance to DfID, or redefining the spending as overseas development aid.

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