Why this World Social Justice Day Labour must make the case for internationalism

by Libby Smith, LCID Executive member and COO at Coalition for Global Prosperity

With Covid, conflict and disaster splashed across our TV screens, it’s easy to forget the human beings behind the headlines, behind the statistics. It’s as easy to forget the huge progress being made. The capacity that an effective international development strategy has to transform lives around the world. It protects the rights of people to love who they love, it tackles climate change, and rebuilds communities torn apart by conflict. As we mark this year’s World Day of Social Justice, these are but a few of the reasons why Labour must remain a proud champion for development.

This is also integral to our values as a party, which is why I’m pleased that Preet Gill continues to do such incredible work as Shadow International Development Secretary. At a time when we face growing challenges both at home and abroad, the merger of the Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has already seen the loss of a permanent voice for development in the Cabinet. Keir Starmer, in his commitment to keeping a Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, has signalled that Labour will remain compassionate and outward-looking. It’s a move which demonstrates we are still an internationalist party at heart, and have not forgotten the plight of the world’s poorest.

In Labour, we have a strong and proud tradition of internationalism. A tradition of working with our neighbours to stand up for our shared values. It was a Labour government who helped to found the United Nations at the end of the second world war, to bring together nations, divided by years of war, to collectively deal with threats to international peace and security. From fighting international terrorism, to working towards a COVID-19 vaccine, it is clear that we achieve the best results and help the most people when we work together on the global challenges of our time.

Today, with the international system experiencing profound geopolitical change, a global pandemic and the UK looking to make its own place on the world stage, there is a heightened need for global cooperation. In this complex picture, it’s clear that trade, defence, diplomacy and development are increasingly intertwined. By helping some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, we in turn help to secure our own national interest by helping to protect us from new threats emerging. Take the Ebola crisis in 2014, the work of our world class development, healthcare and armed forces personnel helped bring the crisis under control and prevented the disease spreading close to our shores.

Not only does this work change lives, it also flies the flag for Britain worldwide, helping to foster deeper ties with our global partners. This is especially important now as we deal with the fallout of COVID-19, which has been a stark reminder of the need to work together to tackle global challenges. We know the virus doesn’t respect country borders, which means we are only as strong as our weakest health system. It is a global crisis that requires global, coordinated action, of which the aid budget is key.

An independent aid budget has long been an invaluable soft power asset, helping to put the UK at the top diplomatic table. And whether you voted for or against Brexit, we must use this as an opportunity to create a strong and outward looking Britain. Today, we have a unique chance to decide what kind of country we want to be – one that makes a positive difference for those in need, one that stands up against tyrants and oppressors, and one that creates a fairer, safer and more prosperous future for all or one that retreats. The UK’s aid budget will be central to this vision.

We can be proud of what Labour achieved in setting up the Department for International Development and the party’s refusal to balance the books on the backs of the world’s poorest. Right now the world is crying out for the same values which led to its creation – of compassion and internationalism. Values echoed by Biden in his inauguration speech. So let’s show the world what we stand for. We can do this by continuing to be a strong voice for the world’s poorest in Parliament, and by supporting a strong Shadow International Development team to hold the Government to account.

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