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A Change of Approach – Where Labour can thrive and improve support for aid

27 June 2012

by Ali Louis

This week the IPPR and ODI will published their anticipated report Understanding Public Attitudes to Aid and Development.

Whilst there have been opinions polls on aid, this report attempts to gauge why public perceptions have been formed.

Positive public attitudes to aid are crucial if we are to maintain our commitment to spend 0.7% of our GDP on it. We must continue to bring the public along with us and improve levels of understanding and support. Engaging with the public on how we spend and use aid is also an important function of a democratic transparent and effective state.

The report makes a number of interesting and astute recommendations. If we are to remain global leaders and advocates of aid, ‘a change of approach is necessary.’

One of the most striking findings of the report is that the Government’s current aid messaging is not working.

Under the coalition Government the messages of aid have changed. At LCID’s summer reception, Shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis commented upon the difference between how Labour views development and how the Government approaches aid.

Where we talk about social justice they talk philanthropy. Where we talk about the importance of rights they talk about value for money. Where we talk about responsible capitalism they talk about the private sector.’

One of the report’s recommendations is that’ Government and Non-Governmental Organisations should ensure they understand the impact that their development message and campaigns on the wider public.’

The report finds that the public’s support for aid and development stems from a sense of fairness and moral commitment to the world’s poor rather than self-interest. Yet self-interest arguments have increasingly been used by Andrew Mitchell. The Government justifies aid by telling the public it is in our security interest.

It is true that some aid will serve our own self and national interest. Whilst national security could be a welcome by-product of aid, it is dangerous if it becomes the driving motivation. Despite the Daily Mail’s best fear tactics, this snapshot of the public does not support aid for national security’s sake.

It is here that the Labour party can excel. We do not support aid purely out of self-interest. We support aid because it brings thousands out of poverty every year. It addresses the shocking inequality that exists around the world and it can mitigate the impact of globalisation and multinational companies on the poor. Crucially, the report suggests that continuing to justify aid in a way that speaks to Labour party values will increase the public’s support.

The report also stresses that the public view multinational companies, responsible capitalism and a fairer taxation system as critical aspects of development. This is an area where the current Government has been slow to make progress.

Yet responsible capitalism is at the heart of the Labour manifesto.  Again the report has identified an area which Labour supporters can easily rally behind. A number of NGOs are increasing their pressure on the Government to instigate a change in the way we deal with international tax dodging.  The Government has not demonstrated the political will to see reform. Labour should lead the charge against the Government, demanding reform in international taxation laws.

As the opposition we can and should be building an alternative development agenda. We are different from the Government in the way we talk about development and the language we use. The report by the IPPR and ODI has illustrated that this is a powerful tool, and one that Labour should use to increase public support for our development vision.

The financial crisis and spending cuts will undoubtedly lead to more people questioning whether giving aid is appropriate. Labour’s perspective on aid and development could help increase public support by focusing on fairness, and could also help the Developing World by tackling abuses by multinational corporations and supporting a fairer tax system.

The report highlights the political astuteness of the public. We must make sure that we are championing social justice, rights, responsible capitalism, the role of multinational companies and fairer taxation. Not just because these are central to our development agenda. Not just because they will garner the greatest public support. But because ultimately these are the values that will underpin sustainable poverty reduction.

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