Owen Smith MP – my commitment to tackling poverty at home and abroad

owen-smith-2Owen Smith MP, candidate in the 2016 Labour Leadership contest, blogs for LCID on his commitment to international development – @OwenSmith_MP

Anyone in any doubt about the right-wing agenda of this new Tory government should take a look at two of Theresa May’s lesser commented-on appointments over the summer – that of Priti Patel as International Development Secretary, and her Special Adviser Robert Oxley – formerly of the Brexit campaign and the ideological Taxpayer’s Alliance.

Both Patel and Oxley have spent years attacking the very department that they now lead, arguing for the aid budget to be redirected, cut or even scrapped – and even at one point suggesting that DFID should be abolished or reformed. Even more shockingly they appear to be willing to undermine the cross-party consensus on the 0.7% aid target to spend a small but guaranteed proportion of our income on supporting education, health and responding to disasters around the world. They must be stopped.

Establishing DFID, leading the way on both the quality and quantity of our development assistance, and while abandoning the type of policies that led to the Pergau dam scandal – was one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government. An achievement that literally saved lives around the world, and showed the type of outward looking internationalism that Britain and Labour should represent.

It is clear that there is a moral case for international development assistance – and focusing this on those who need it the most. Who can say that we should turn by and walk on the other side when so many children remain unable to go to school, when millions face the threat of HIV/Aids, Malaria or TB, and when women and girls often bear the brunt – not least in conflict zones. And as we see the effects of climate change and disorganised war and conflict impacting on many more – we also have to prepare for the challenges of the future.

It’s why the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals was so important – recognising that tackling poverty and injustice requires concerted action in many areas, and in the richest countries domestic policies as well as their international action – not least when it comes to sustainability, climate change, taxation and corporate behaviour overseas. I want to see a Labour government that leads the way in delivering the goals domestically and internationally.

But as well as the moral case – international development is clearly in our national interest. Whether it is the tragedy of poverty and conflict driven thousands drowning in boats in the Mediterranean – or the threat of instability and poor governance in countries across Africa and the Middle East leading providing the space for extremism to grow – we ignore these challenges at our own peril. There is no zero-sum game between our Defence, Development and Diplomatic efforts around the world. We must ensure there is coherence and collaboration to ensure a safer, fairer and more just world for all.

But I believe there is something more fundamental at stake. Many understand the need for charity – but only Labour has historically recognised the need for justice – whether for garment workers in Bangladesh, women fleeing rape in the DRC or the refugees of Syria. We need to address the immediate impacts – but also the economic and political structures that drive injustice, poverty and conflict – for example through global tax transparency or fair trade. DFID and our aid budget have been at the heart of that fight for justice since 1997, and I will fight tooth and nail as Labour’s Leader to ensure the Tories don’t take an ideological axe to its work – and pledge to put tackling poverty at home and abroad at the heart of my programme as Labour’s next Prime Minister.

 

Owen Smith

David Miliband makes the case for Britain in Europe

david milibandToday in London David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary and current CEO of International Rescue Committee, delivered a speech making the case for the UK to remain in Europe, including why the EU matters for international development.

Some of his comments are reproduced below:

 

 

At the heart of our British success story in the post-war period – not just as a fringe component or some add-on extra – has been our membership of the European Union. Europe is not an alternative to a global Britain; it is the foundation for our role and reach internationally, which is good for us, and I would argue good for stability and security around the world.

The very same outward-looking attitude that took us into Europe, and has kept us in Europe, is the attitude that makes us credible and influential in the wider world. Rather than limit or diminish us, the European Union multiplies British power, British ideas and British values in very direct ways.

  • The EU multiplies British defence policy. We could never tackle Somali pirates, who were holding the coast of Africa to ransom, on our own. As part of the EU, we despatched a highly successful naval force to do just that – the Atalanta force led by the Royal Navy. In 2011, there were 176 attacks; last year, none.
  • Europe multiplies British diplomacy. We sought, on a cross-party basis, across successive governments, a negotiated resolution to the Iranian nuclear program through the EU, which was ahead of the US on this issue, and which convened and drove forward the process to achieve that hugely important goal. When I went to argue in Beijing for Chinese support for sanctions that would help support a negotiated settlement, progress was achieved in part because of the united European position I was able to put forward.
  • Europe multiplies support for British values. We saw the consequences of break-up in the Balkans in the 1990s before the EU had a common foreign policy. It is thanks to the EU’s diplomatic pressure and economic pull that there is now relative peace and stability in the Balkans, despite the refugee crisis. An independent Kosovo, stable Serbia, growing Croatia exist because of agreed EU foreign policy. This is an area where the EU has thrown its weight around, and to good effect.
  • Europe multiplies our development policy. We know the UK overseas aid budget has gone up – but with a British contribution, the EU’s humanitarian aid budget is the largest in the world, and together we are pioneers in good practice. Britain’s membership of the EU has been good for EU humanitarian aid policy, and in the process good for millions of people helped around the world because of the Union’s clout and commitment in this field.
  • Europe massively multiplies our environmental clout. The UK cares about climate change, but we can hardly tackle it alone. Our EU membership has allowed us to drive and deliver a cross-party UK priority on a European scale, and now a global scale.

Where Europe has been weak, and failed to multiply British interests, for example in its dealings with Russia, it is not because Europe has been too united in its policy, but too divided. The answer to a revanchist Russia seeking to flex its muscles around the world is not a weaker EU, but a stronger one.

So Europe multiplies British power, rather than diminishing or constraining it.

The fact is that Britain needs Europe, and Europe needs Britain. That is the patriotic case for us to not just to remain in the EU, but to develop a positive vision for European cooperation for the 21st century.

On the 22nd Anniversary of the Genocide, Rwanda is defying both global expectations and wishes

By Claire Leigh – Consultant at UNDP, 2015 Labour Parliamentary Candidate and former Chair of LCID – @ClaireLeighLab  

Reconciliation village, Nyamata, 2016

Reconciliation village, Nyamata, 2016

It is almost frustrating to start every discussion on Rwanda by referencing the infamous genocide that took place there twenty two years ago. The country today is almost unrecognisable from the place that tore itself apart in 1994 at the cost of some 800 thousand lives, and its grim reputation abroad is starkly out of step with the feisty, controversial and modernising nation’s reality. Ask anyone what they know about Rwanda, and they will say the genocide. When pushed, they might mention gorillas. Pushed further they might have read a newspaper in which President Paul Kagame was slated as ‘another typical African dictator’.

But its government is faced with a dilemma when it comes to not allowing genocide to define it. Within Rwanda itself, the state has pursued a distinctive approach to reconciliation that makes ‘never forget’ more of an order than an entreaty. Constant and visible reminders of the genocide are everywhere; Memorials – often gruesome – appear in every town, while Reconciliation Villages bring perpetrators and victims together to give regular talks to Rwandans and visitors about the terrible events of April 1994. And the genocide is central to the governing regime’s domestic political narrative.

Skyscrapers in downtown KigaliAt the same time the country is attempting the unthinkable: to become a ‘hub’ for African business and a middle-income economy  within a generation. Already, the country seems to be making this vision seem less hallucinogenic, with GDP growth regularly in the double digits, and new sky-scrapers crowding the capital Kigali. But the PR issue remains very real; How to both ‘never forget’ at home while moving perceptions on abroad.

The result is that, despite its startling successes in maintaining the peace (against all expectations, the return to conflict being a miraculous non-event that the state fails to get credit for) and improving citizens’ prosperity, foreigners remain for the most part ignorant of the pretty astonishing changes taking place in Rwanda.

Observers who know more about its transformation are often deeply sceptical of the means by which it is being achieved. Part of the reason for this is Kagame himself, who is anything but a ‘typical African dictator’, but who is dictatorial nevertheless. Political space has been tightly controlled since the genocide, and democracy is simply not a priority of the Regime. As Harvard MBA students learn, Kagame runs Rwanda like the CEO of a large corporation. The government is ruthlessly performance-focused, and if it were judged by one of its own famous performance cards, it would get an A* for things like reducing maternal mortality, increasing incomes, and keeping kids in school. But the international community have in recent years awarded it a D- for democracy, with many withdrawing aid money in protest.

I lived in Rwanda six years ago (full disclosure, I worked for a charity and was based in the President’s Office) at a time when the international community was still in love with Kagame. And it is easy to see why; One of the safest countries in Africa, Rwanda is also the second least corrupt, and spends aid money incredibly effectively. And it was clear to anyone living there that the lives of ordinary Rwandans were being changed dramatically. Fast forward six years and the international romance is over (even ending in divorce for countries like the UK), with donors citing political repression as a growing concern. But Kagame, among the vast majority of Rwandans, remains wildly popular. Most Rwandans I talk to genuinely don’t seem to regard democratisation as either a priority or even desirable in the immediate future. After all, Rwandans have seen what majority rule can do in a country with a large ethnic minority. The government looks to Singapore – only recently democratising after decades of state-led development – as its role model, and surrounded as it is by weak democracies with even weaker development records, who are we to argue?

Twenty two years on from one of the greatest human tragedies of the modern era, Rwanda finds itself famous for all the wrong reasons, and criticised for achieving  all the right things in all the wrong ways. The defiantly unorthodox path being taken by Rwanda raises uncomfortable questions for the international community. We must continue to criticise where human rights abuses are apparent. And clearly Rwanda, like Singapore, needs an exit strategy from authoritarianism. But we must also be humble enough to admit that we might not have all the answers when it comes to Rwanda’s broader exit strategy from the tragic events of 1994.

Cameron may be breaking OECD aid rules to placate Tory backbenchers

As posted on Left Foot Forward.

The Labour Campaign for International Development warned before the 2010 election that there was a risk the Conservatives would divert the aid budget away from poverty reduction and towards national security.

RAF-C17 Transport AircraftToday’s news that hundreds of millions of pounds may be diverted to peacekeeping defence operations in bid toplacate backbenchers proves those warnings right.

And it wasn’t just us – before the election Save the Children told Left Foot Forward that they were:

“Very concerned that the Conservatives’ security spokesperson…left open the possibility of significant aid funds being diverted into stabilisation units.”

If Cameron is to do this he may end up breaking the rules laid down by the OECD and indeed our own International Development Act of 2002 in the process.

As LCID’s Honorary Co-President Glenys Kinnock said this morning:

“The Development Assistance Committee of OECD guidelines are very clear on what qualifies as aid – hope PM has read them.”

No 10 said the aid budget could be ‘used to fund military spending in three areas; security, demobilisation and peacekeeping‘.

Yet the OECD guidelines explicitly state that the enforcement aspects of peacekeeping are not reportable as ODA:

Military aid: No military equipment or services are reportable as ODA. Anti-terrorism activities are also excluded.

Peacekeeping: Most peacekeeping expenditures are excluded in line with the exclusion of military costs. ”

The 2002 International Development Act is also explicit in its requirement that British aid be spend on poverty reduction alone.

As Patrick Watt, Save the Children’s director of development, told the Guardian in 2010;

“What is the real driver of aid allocation? Is it poverty, is it need and the ability to use money effectively or is it the agenda of the National Security Council? We do need to have a balanced approach to aid allocation that reflects the principles of the 2002 International Development Act which stipulates that all aid should be for poverty reduction.”

Indeed DFID’s own website states;

“The 2002 Act is drafted in such a way that a policy such as ‘tied aid’ (and the Aid and Trade Provision), in which assistance is given for the purpose of promoting UK trade or for other commercial or political reasons, would now be challengeable in the courts.”

LCID does not object to the coalition’s decision to focus 30% of the aid budget on the world’s most fragile states. But we object strongly to any attempt to raid the aid budget to make up for the cuts the Government have made our armed forces.

Charlie Samuda is LCID’s Vice Chair, Communications and Campaigning

Ivan Lewis on reports that aid agencies have been banned from operating inside Somalia

Ivan Lewis has commented on reports that international aid agencies have been banned from operating inside Somalia.

The news that some UN and international aid agencies have been banned from operating inside Somalia is extremely concerning.

I am relieved by reports that staff are safe at the moment but it is undoubtedly a distressing situation for them, and their families, to be in.

Organisations operating out in Somalia are playing a hugely important role. A recent UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs situation report stated ‘the number of people facing imminent starvation has been reduced from 750,000 to 250,000. However, these improvements will only be sustained if the current level of assistance continues, and areas may fall back into famine if humanitarian activities are interrupted or reduced.’ Increased insecurity will disrupt access to the areas where people are in most need of assistance.

This year the Horn of Africa has experienced one of the worst droughts in sixty years. It has devastated cattle and crops, destroyed livelihoods and created a flood of refugees. A famine has taken hold causing tens of thousands of people to die and threatening thousands more with starvation.

There are concerns that the situation will deteriorate over the next few months due to high levels of malnutrition, a likely increase in food prices and the spread of diseases. By removing this humanitarian lifeline Al-Shabaab is placing the lives of hundreds of thousands at risk. The UK Government should use all its powers to help these aid agencies to get back into Somalia.

Why we need to stand in solidarity with Afghan women

Kate Hughes, campaigner for the Rights in Crisis Team at Oxfam write for us.

Ten years ago, Afghan women were promised a bright future. After decades of civil war, and repressive Taliban rule, they have entered a new era in which they are once again able to work, send their daughters to school, and even stand for parliament. But now these hard-won gains are under threat, and women fear that they will be abandoned as international military forces prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014. A new international campaign has recently launched, “Green scarves for solidarity with Afghan women”, that aims to support Afghan women’s groups and keep their fight for better rights at the forefront of the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan.

When international forces first went into Afghanistan, women’s rights were much discussed.  Wives of Western leaders came out publically in support of Afghan women; notably Cherie Blair and Laura Bush, spoke about the importance of supporting Afghan women.  Cherie Blair said this support was vital “so they can create the better Afghanistan we all want to see.”

Yet, as the conflict has continued and Western nations have become wearier of war, focus has shifted away from women’s rights, and more towards how and when to bring troops home.  Advocates of women’s issues have increasingly struggled to get the funding from donors that they deserve.  For example, even though Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world, with 1 out of 11 women dying in pregnancy or child birth, The Independent reported in August that the coalition government is failing to support Afghan women.  “Not a single penny of the British government’s £178m annual Afghanistan reconstruction budget is being spent trying to save the tens of thousands of women who die in childbirth there”.

Despite the increasing challenges for Afghan women, a brave and bold women’s movement is pushing for change.  The Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) is a decidedly mobile and active campaigning group that serves as a well-established network for the growing number of women’s organisations operating in the country
“ One of the major concerns is the absence of Afghan women in discussions and decisions on peace, “ says Samira Hamidi, AWN’s director. “No negotiation or decision can be complete if half the population’s views are ignored.”
AWN campaigns vigorously in the political sphere. They specialise in global advocacy in conversations that will shape the country’s future, as well as in country campaigning.  For the 2009 presidential elections, AWN launched the 5 Million Women Campaign.  The campaign mobilised women to influence the political agenda of different candidates.  The campaign did not try to appeal or align itself with any one candidate.  It instead aimed to unite women as a strong voting block and present women’s issues as a vote winner to candidates.
To give the campaign a strong visual identity, women wore green scarves edged in red and black stripes (the other colours in the flag of Afghanistan), into which they sewed messages such as, “Our vote is our future”.  Men joining the campaign wore green caps, edged with red and black.
Another group trailblazing women’s activism in Afghanistan is Young Women for Change (YWFC).  Founded in April 2011, Young Women for Change is made up of young activists who have grown up in the more liberal Afghanistan of the last 10 years.

YWFC organised Afghanistan’s first ever march against street harassment July this year, something that would have been unimaginable, and quite frankly impossible, 10 years ago.

Though their messages and issues may echo feminist issues globally (violence against women and issues of political participation) – their campaigning environment is exponentially tougher.  One must remember that women in Afghanistan still face acid attacks, violence in the home or even being killed for working outside the home.  This summer, two women in Kandahar were murdered on their way home from their offices precisely for this reason.

Activists globally supporting women in Afghanistan

Activists globally have an important role to play in supporting the struggle of Afghan women.  For those of us in the UK, our government contributes troops to the intervention in Afghanistan and is also contributing millions of pounds each year in aid.  The UK has both a role and a stake in Afghanistan and we have a role to play in lobbying and monitoring the coalition government so that women’s rights remains high up on the agenda.

On December 5th the international community will meet at Bonn in Germany for a conference that will chart the course for the international community’s involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014.  It is a vital opportunity for world leaders to reaffirm their commitment to Afghanistan’s women and girls, and ensure that their access to basic services – so vital to Afghanistan’s future – is supported for the next decade.

How can you help?
We need to demand that the government does not to sell out Afghan women for the sake of peace at any price.  We need to stand in solidarity with the struggle of Afghan women.

To show support of the green scarf that has come to symbolise Afghanistan’s women’s movement –Oxfam, and others, have launched the “Green scarves for solidarity with Afghan women” campaign.   We are calling on people to wear green scarves in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan and to upload images to a photo petition. These images will be handed over to ministers and used to build a photo wall at the Bonn conference, demonstrating the movement of global solidarity with Afghan women.

Aqlima Moradi from YWFC is featured in the campaign video, where she sums up the importance of global solidarity by saying “the fight for human rights is something that is everyone’s responsibility”.  It is our responsibility to act.
Add your face to the photo petition:  http://ch16.org/afghanwomen

Labour government refused to sell guns to repressive regime

The Wikileaks cables reveal that the UK Government refused a US$60M export licence for assault rifles, heavy machine guns, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters to be exported to Swaziland in 2008.

The Swaziland government is dues to spend 10% of its budget on police and the army and has, in recent years has used force to viciously subdue internal dissent. ACTSA says, “King Mswati III rules a population of just over one million people by authoritarian means; political and civic activists are threatened and imprisoned. There is less political freedom than in Zimbabwe.”

Official UK Government documents show that there was enough worry that the arms would be used by the government of Swaziland against its own people. For that reason, the last Labour Government refused the licence; an action that was exactly right.

“We are pleased that the British Government blocked this shipment of arms to Swaziland. We hope they did not get the arms from anywhere else.  The Swazi government has an appalling record of crushing dissent. For a country enduring a major financial crisis, where 70 per cent of the population live in absolute poverty, it can not be right for a government to prioritise repression over tackling poverty and supporting democracy.”

Tony Dykes, Director of ACTSA

The principle that values come before profit is an important one and one that we at LCID will be working hard to ensure the current Conservative-led Government respects.

You can find out more about this story on the ACTSA website.