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

Owen Smith MP signs LCID pledge for Leadership candidates

owen-smith-mpAs with previous leadership contests in 2010 and 2015, LCID will not be endorsing a leadership candidate in the current contest.

However we have asked candidates to sign the International pledge for 2016 Leadership candidates.

We are delighted that Owen Smith MP has signed the pledge and agreed to uphold the principles it contains.

We are awaiting a response from Jeremy Corbyn MP.

 

International pledge for 2016 Leadership candidates:

 

  1. I believe tackling poverty and inequality is what Labour governments are for. Any government I lead will take a ‘whole government’ approach to global justice, ensuring that our policies on tax, trade, climate change, home affairs, education, business regulation, defence, and security deliver for the world’s poorest people.

 

  1. I back British aid. I will ensure we spend 0.7% of GNI on aid and spend it well, focusing our aid exclusively and explicitly on tackling poverty and inequality, even in the hardest to reach places.

 

  1. I want DFID to be a development department, not just an aid administrator. I will ensure DFID is an innovative, independent department with a seat at the cabinet table and representation on all the relevant cabinet committees

 

  1. The Government I lead will pursue an ethical foreign policy and champion a progressive approach to humanitarian intervention in line with our international obligations, such as the UN’s Responsibility To Protect Civilians commitment.

 

On International Women’s Day call on the Government to back up UN Women

Today is International Women’s Day, Labour is holding the Conservative-led Government to account on its promise to women around the world. This comes a week after support for UN Women was left out of the aid review. In an email, Harriet Harman asked people to ask them why:

Today is International Women’s Day. Join me in calling on the Government to answer the question they failed to answer last week when they published their review of the UK’s international aid programme – how much will they commit to spending on the new UN women’s agency?

This new UN agency has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of women in both the developed and the developing world but it needs resources.

The Government say they are putting women and girls at the heart of their development work. Sign up and ask the Government to put their money where their mouth is and show the world that the UK is still a leader for women

The Labour Government played a key role in establishing “UN Women”. The new Government must continue that support. Empowering women is not only right in principle but essential for fighting poverty and achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals, such as reducing the number of women who die in childbirth, and increasing the number of girls who go to school.

It is women in developing countries who are best placed to fight for maternal health care, and for their daughters to go to school. UN Women must help them in that fight. Support UN Women by signing up to ask the Tory-led Government for a real commitment to back up women throughout the world

Decisions are being made on this now and women the world over need the UK to play its part. The women of the world shouldn’t have to wait any longer for this Government to make up its mind.

Best,

Harriet Harman
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

 

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.

LCID reaction to Report on Labour’s Education record

A Nigerian teacher in training. Photo credit: Chris Morgan, DFIDThe difficulty of being part of a political party is that sometimes you stand accused of being too tribal, too colour-blind, too willing to defend the party line. LCID it is not beyond criticising and critiquing the Labour Party’s own policy and record, but we will defend it passionately when we think it has come under attack unfairly.

Just before Christmas, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee released a report criticising Labour’s record on education spending.

As the report pointed out, DFID has focused on educational programs to improve and expand state primary school networks in 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia most of these have increased school enrolment from 50% or even lower to 70 to 90% and 14 on schedule to meet the UN MDG on education by 2015.

There is of course a major challenge for all those committed to education for all to ensure that the increase in the quantity of children receiving education is matched by an increase in the quality of education that they receive.

But despite huge and rapid increases in school enrolment in several countries supported by DFID, there has been no reduction in the levels of learning achievement – Tanzania is a case in point. That counts as a major achievement given that most new entrants are not only very poor but also often malnourished.

In addition, Labour and the DFID actively supported strategies aimed at strengthening achievement levels in countries such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, and Bangladesh.

The criticisms laid out in this report must not be used as an excuse to reduce the amount of aid our country spends on supporting children to learn. Kids kept out of school by poverty tend not to learn very much.

In terms of the allegations regarding the Kenyan government, we know that the Labour team at the time took pretty tough and rapid action and were very careful with any subsequent budget support to Kenya.

Most importantly, whilst improvements can be made to UK aid, this report must not be used as an excuse to reduce budget sector support. Without national government-run health and education systems, free at the point of use, countries will never get the healthy educated workforce they need to lift themselves out of poverty (and reduce their need for aid).

Our national health service is the envy of the world – UK aid should support countries to develop their own national health services and national education systems. Before the election, we and others including UNESCO warned that Mitchell and the Conservatives favoured private education initiatives including vouchers schemes in their manifesto – let us be clear, the overwhelming evidence across the world is that public health and education services deliver best for poor people – and this report must not be used to try and justify otherwise.

Harriet’s first speech outlines some critical areas for international development

Harriet Harman speaking at ActionAid

This article was originally posted on Left Foot Forward.

This morning, shadow international development secretary Harriet Harman gave a speech at ActionAid headquarters in London. Marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Ms Harman outlined six key priorities for the future of international development:

1. Realising the 0.7 per cent GNP pledge for aid;

2. Strengthening women’s rights around the world;

3. Support for remittances (money sent by people in developed countries to their family members in their country of origin);

4. Trade, tax and global growth;

5. The role of development in conflict prevention; and

6. Meeting the needs of developing countries in the fight against climate change.

It was that first point that Ms Harman concentrated on to make a direct call to the government:

“We cannot have succeeded in the struggle to have a new UN women’s agency only to discover that its governing board is men. That would be to contradict everything that it stands for.

“And the executive board should reach out beyond women in the UN missions and women in governments and include women in civil society organisations.”

In order to achieve this and to ensure the UK’s position as a world leader in women’s rights, Ms Harman decried the fact that among the Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office ministerial teams, there was not a single woman.

She said:

“We [Labour] are calling on the Government to make a ministerial appointment of a woman to carry on the work that Glenys Kinnock was doing when we were in government – a role you campaigned for. She led the UK’s work on tackling violence against women overseas and she did a great job.

“The first time such an appointment had been made in the UK. That was important leadership and the government must continue it.”

Well, the government must have been half listening as Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone has, just today, had ‘International Violence Against Women Champion’ added to her brief. Potentially stopping well short of what Ms Harman called for, there is little indication as yet as to what authority Ms Featherstone will have, nor what resources she will have at hand to make a difference to the lives of women across the world.

On remittances, Ms Harman drew on the experiences of many in her constituency, including a report she compiled in 2007:

“I call them the ‘hidden heroes of international development’. People living in my constituency who come from Sierra Leone, Nigeria or Ghana who are living here and working hard bringing up their families. Sometimes doing more than one job, like office cleaning.

“As well as paying their taxes and providing for their family, they also send money back to their home country… But I think we can and should do much more to support remittances.”

It was clear from the passion in her speech that Ms Harman looks determined to make a difference in her new role. Before the election, there was cross-party consensus on the enshrining of the 0.7 per cent law; it was now Labour’s role, she said, to press the coalition to ensure that this Bill is put before Parliament. In a time where the government seems to turn with the tide, Labour:

“… doesn’t want to risk this being the next promise abandoned.”

Left Foot Forward has previously written about a worrying lack of ambition, ideas or leadership emanating from the coalition on international development. With these six points, Harriet Harman has once again demonstrated that Labour is providing leadership on this issue – the focus on trade, tax and global growth is therefore particularly welcome, and LCID looks forward to hearing more on the shadow team’s proposals.

You can read ActionAid’s news from International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women here.

By Tim Nicholls