On Friday 3 May, the Popinjay Hotel, Rosebank, in the Clyde Valley, was the venue for the 4th Judith Hart Memorial Lecture Dinner. This year the lecture was given by Rt. Hon Douglas Alexander MP, the Shadow Foreign Secretary. The first memorial lecture in 2007 was by Lord George Robertson, followed by the Rt. Hon Harriet Harman MP in 2009 and Lord John Prescott in 2011.
A younger generation may not know that Judith Hart was Labour’s Minister of Overseas Development for nearly all the years Labour was in Government from 1969 to 1979. Her successor as MP for Clydesdale (now Lanark and Hamilton East), Jimmy Hood, writes on his website: “Judith Hart was one of a very small number of women of her generation elected to Parliament in 1959. Of the 25 (4%) women MP’s elected in that year 13 (2%) were Labour. She was the fifth woman of all time to serve in a British Cabinet as Postmaster General 1968-69 in Harold Wilson’s Government. Judith devoted all her political life to fighting poverty and injustice wherever she found it, whither in her own constituency or across the world. She was a fierce opponent of apartheid in South Africa and great defender of Chile, where in 1973 Chilean Armed Forces lead by General Augusto Pinochet successfully led a coup d’état against the democratically elected socialist Government. The Late Judith Hart was a formidable fighter for socialism, a great champion of Scotland, democracy and International Development.”
Douglas Alexander’s lecture received a lot of media attention for the later sections addressing the issue of Scottish Independence, but here are the first few paragraphs where he focuses on Judith Hart’s International Development legacy.
“Judith Hart was an extraordinary woman, and it is fitting that she is commemorated in a way that both befits her memory and celebrates her life and vision – a vision that often challenged received wisdom and cultural conventions.
A graduate of the London School of Economics and the University of London, and a lecturer at a teacher training college, she served as the Labour MP for Lanark and subsequently Clydesdale from 1959 until 1987. One of just 25 women MPs elected in 1959, she served in a range of Ministerial Offices, and in so doing became only the 5th woman ever to serve in a British Cabinet.
But tonight I want to draw, in particular, on how what underpinned her life and work – over many years – as Minister of Overseas Development, helps to guide us, especially as we head towards the momentous decision facing Scotland next year. And I do so with some humility, as one of her successors in leading the British Government’s efforts to tackle global poverty.
Over recent years, Britain’s Department for International Development has rightly come to be seen as a global leader on aid effectiveness and I am proud that this year the UK will achieve the target set and worked for by Labour to meet the UN goal of committing 0.7% of our GNI on international development. The road we have travelled is nowhere better exemplified than in our Tory Prime Minister, forced by public opinion, to meet and match Labour’s aid commitment.
As Development Secretary I saw personally the impact of those much needed resources in babies receiving vaccinations, children gaining a teacher, families receiving bed-nets and the hungry receiving food. It is life changing, world changing work, to which Judith made a huge contribution.
One of her lasting legacies is to be found nearer to home. It is thanks to Judith Hart that East Kilbride became the location of the joint headquarters of the UK Department for International Development. It is a unique arrangement in Whitehall reflecting the imagination and vision of a unique woman. Not for her the idea that all things Westminster had to be in London.
It was, and remains for me, also a Labour MP from the West of Scotland, a matter of huge pride that each day, each week, hundreds of our fellow Scots get up and go to work in East Kilbride and on our behalf spend their day helping tackle disease, hunger and need – extending our help and assistance to some of the most afflicted places on Earth.
Tonight, reflecting on her strong sense of solidarity, I want to make the case that the prospect of next year’s referendum on independence – if we are willing and wise – affords us the opportunity to move beyond the argument that Scotland would be better walking away from our neighbours that has been a part of Scottish politics for decades, and instead embrace a different vision for our nation.
The case I want to make is that far from now having to walk away from our neighbours to somehow be the Scots we want to be, there is a better and more hopeful road on which we can journey from 2014. Walking away from others has never been our way – walking with others has been our heritage and to my mind should be our future.”
You can read the full text of the lecture here.
Alastair Osborne is the Scottish Officer for LCID