Policy from the grassroots

By David Jepson, Bristol West CLP

For too long the development of policy in foreign affairs and international development has been left to an elite. Labour has to hand a huge untapped pool of knowledge and experience within our communities, including faith groups, diasporas, people who have worked or volunteered in the field and others.

During a visit of the Labour DFID team to Bristol, an event was organised to focus on just that topic.

Around 40 people turned up at 9.30am in a church hall on a weekday morning to take part in a meeting chaired by Gavin Shuker MP and also attended by Alison McGovern, MP  as well as local MP Kerry McCarthy and Bristol West PPC Thangam Debbonaire. Participants in the meeting included those with direct knowledge of a wide range of countries including Somalia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, India and came from a wide variety of backgrounds.

A clear message was that if international development policy and delivery was to become more effective, it was important to listen to such voices. Issues raised included the roles of large international NGOs and also the state in recipient countries, in delivery of development support. There was a questioning of the use of the very term “aid”,  and discussions about the importance of human rights and tackling poverty, the need to see development support as part of the same response to a neo liberal model of the world economy that sees workers in the UK on very low wages and zero hours contracts. The importance of ensuring positive balanced and positive coverage in the media, political debate and through education in the UK was also raised amongst many topics.

Good though the meeting was and it was welcomed by those who took part. However, a key issue is how to build this process into policy development. It was mentioned that some countries have committees representing diasporas to feed into policy on a formal basis. How can Labour channel such knowledge, experience and commitment into it’s policy development process.

It has been agreed that there will be a follow up to the event in Bristol after the Summer break. Let hope this is part of a wider process of community level engagement.


David is a member of LCID and has organised an informal discussion group on international development issues, in Bristol, for several years.

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