Vote 2010: International development – A big choice election

First published on Left Foot Forward.

International development has not grabbed the headlines in this election – and that’s a great shame, because not only has it meant a worrying lack of scrutiny of the Conservative Party’s aid policies, but it has hidden from view one of Labour’s most progressive and positive achievements of the last 13 years. The Sky Leaders’ Debate on foreign policy contained no question on international development, despite the department for international development (£5.2bn) having a greater budget than the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (£1.9bn).

The Tories’ unanswered questions

International-developmentThe questions surrounding the Conservatives’ policies on development, which we scrutinised back in January, remain unanswered. Cameron has made ring-fencing the aid budget exhibit A of his attempts to prove the Conservatives have shed their ‘nasty party’ image, but the devil is in the detail – not only in how much they will spend, but what on.

Despite their claims to match Labour and the Liberal Democrats on spending 0.7 per cent on aid by 2013, they have continually refused to guarantee that any aid for climate change adaptation would be additional, and not raided from the existing budget. This is a key demand of the NGOs who make up BOND (the main grouping of British international NGOs), and was raised with Conservative shadow minister Andrew Mitchell at their AGM in February.

Mitchell was on a panel with international development secretary Douglas Alexander and Michael Moore of the Lib Dems; download the transcript (well worth reading in full). Whilst Labour have committed to make 90 per cent of aid for climate change additional, and the Lib Dems 100 per cent, Mitchell would only say (p10):

“Until you see what progress is made of Copenhagen I think it’s very difficult to give a judgement of that.”

In response, the NGO director asking the question replied (p11):

I couldn’t vote for a Tory government because there is no commitment there. That 0.7 could be used for climate finance bills, the 150 billion warps the aid budget. Military spending in somewhere like Afghanistan, you know I think the Tories are talking about including some of the peacekeeping in the ODA budgets. I think that’s entirely wrong and untransparent…

In addition, eyebrows were raised when the Conservatives announced plans to create a ‘National Security Council’ with aid experts concerned this would divert aid money into the MoD whilst muddying the boundaries between military and humanitarian work. Save the Children told Left Foot Forward they are:

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

Cameron has said the Conservatives would abide by OECD rules when matching the 0.7 per cent aid commitment, but this would not prevent ODA from being used in some military operations, and could go against the 2002 International Development Act which requires DfID it prove that its spending is likely to contribute to poverty reduction.

Then there are the unanswered questions about what the Conservatives would spend their money on. Since we reported on these concerns in January, leaders of the Make Poverty History campaign have been among the aid experts to criticise the Tories on their plans. In a letter to The Observer recently, they wrote:

“Access to basic services like health and education are basic rights. Conservative proposals to distribute vouchers for private schools in slums, to create an X-Factor-style competition to decide who gets aid, and a shift to private provision of healthcare, look like crude attempts to export failed ideological or populist policies, against the advice of leading practioners and aid charities.”

At the BOND AGM, Andrew Mitchell attempted to defend their ‘My Aid’ X-Factor style competition by claiming it was “a tiny amount of the budget” (p23). In fact, his green paper specifies that this fund would be £40m, almost as much as our entire annual aid to Zambia. How can he claim it is a “very small amount of money” while at the same time creating so much noise about cutting a £50m grant to China that is already being phased out?

Labour’s record

Labour’s trebling of overseas aid provides a stark contrast with the Conservatives, who halved the aid budget when they were last in power. OECD figures released in the midst of this election campaign on April 13 showed a 14.6 per cent real terms increase in UK aid, putting aid at an estimated 0.6 per cent of gross national income and on course to meet the 0.7 per cent target by 2013, despite the recession.

Labour was legislating on international development policy right up until the election was called, first with the tabling of the draft legislation to enshrine the UK’s commitment to 0.7 per cent in law, then with the announcement on International Women’s Day of a new role in Government leading on combating violence against women around the world, and then with the passing of two bills through ‘wash up’ – the first a bill on debt relief targeting Vulture Funds (despite Tory attempts to ruin it), and the second the passing of anti-bribery legislation which creates a new offence of bribing a foreign public official and a corporate offence for companies that fail to prevent bribery.

And the centrality of international development in Labour and Brown’s foreign policy were plain for all who were present at his recent ‘GB on the road’ event on ‘Britain’s place in the world’ – his entire speech addressed development. Watch it here:

In what is widely regarded as his most rousing speech of the election campaign, Brown said on Monday:

“Do you know what taught me more than any book ever taught me, it was a video. It was a video created for the Make Poverty History campaign.”

In addition to enshrining our 0.7 per cent aid spending in law and providing additional aid for climate change adaptation, Labour pledges in its manifesto to continue to lead global initiatives on access to health, education, food, water and sanitation and women’s rights. It is disappointing that there is no concrete commitment to a Financial Transaction Tax, as proposed by the Robin Hood Tax campaign and supported by Left Foot Forward, but in their submission to BOND’s joint demands (p9), Labour claim to have “already called on the IMF to investigate the feasibility of a range of mechanisms including a Financial Transaction Tax and global levies”, and that they “will remain committed to taking forward this agenda and working with international partners to find consensus”.

As many anti-poverty campaigners have long argued, trade can lift millions out of poverty. It is therefore encouraging to see Labour committed in its manifesto to “quadruple funding for fair and ethical trade”, and to “press for a fair World Trade Organisation deal, with no enforced liberalisation for poor countries, and increased duty-free and quota-free access”.

However, whilst Labour’s support for Fairtrade is commendable, little progress has been made on pushing the EU and WTO to make trade fair in the five years that have passed since Labour last committed to trade justice in its 2005 manifesto. If Labour is re-elected, more political capital must be spent on trade if there is to be any movement in the Doha ‘development round’.

Who is Africa’s preferred UK premier?

Closer inspection shows that consensus between the Conservatives and Labour on international development is a myth. This is a big choice election. As one African newspaper, Kenya’s Daily Nation, said:

“Britain is now set to choose who between the two should be their prime minister…It doesn’t speak well of the frivolity of today’s media-hyped politics that the guy with the dash may actually get voted in.

“But if Kenya and Africa were to join the voting, there would be no doubt whatsoever as to their preference.”

Mr Brown’s upbringing in a family of devout Scottish Presbyterians forms the basis of his moral compass. It is this compass that explains his consistent political identification with the underdog and the poor.



NGO Experts say Tory claims on tackling global poverty ring hollow

As published in The Observer today

As practitioners in the field of international development, we write to challenge the claims that there is a consensus between the parties when it comes to tackling global poverty.

Take the issue of promises on aid. The welcome shift in Conservative policy to back the 0.7% promise in 2005 has been much vaunted by David Cameron, but despite repeated requests they have refused clearly to commit to ensure aid is not diverted for other purposes. Their commitment to the 0.7% target risks looking like political positioning rather than a serious commitment to tackling global poverty.

As concerning as how much the Conservatives will actually spend on tackling global poverty is how they suggest spending it. Access to basic services like health and education are basic rights. Conservative proposals to distribute vouchers for private schools in slums, to create an X-Factor-style competition to decide who gets aid, and a shift to private provision of healthcare, look like crude attempts to export failed ideological or populist policies, against the advice of leading practioners and aid charities.

Though we would much like there to be, there is no consensus on this issue. Instead, there is a serious choice about whether and how Britain should help the world’s poorest people.

Richard Bennett CBE

Former chair, Make Poverty History

Dr Ann Pettifor

Co-founder, Jubilee 2000

Lord Joffe

Former chair, Oxfam GB

Kel Currah

Former deputy director of advocacy, World Vision International

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through….Hyde Park!

Speaker’s Corner is a famed place for freedom of speech, where the good, the bad and the ugly have all enjoyed the freedom to speak openly about their passions, causes and beliefs.

On the very sunny Saturday just gone, LCID went down to hear Robin Hood and a Banker battle it out on soapboxes – cheered and jeered by a gang of merry men and women, in a flash-mob as part of a national day of action for the Robin Hood Tax campaign.

LCID backs the campaign and calls for all parties to support it. Supporters are calling for a tiny tax of 0.05% on banking transactions, with the resulting funds spent on aid for poverty both at home and abroad and climate change adaptation funding for developing countries.

In the first Gordon Brown on the Road event we attended last week, the Prime Minister spoke of the responsibility the financial sector has in overcoming the economic crisis. The Robin Hood Tax offers part of that solution and can help lift millions out of unnecessary poverty.

Show your support for the Robin Hood tax campaign by taking action on the website.

By Serena O’Sullivan

Profile: Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Poplar & Limehouse

On the 20th of March, LCID campaigned with the Minister for Food, Farming and the Environment Jim Fitzpatrick. Jim is Labour’s PPC in the Poplar and Limehouse constituency in East London, which has a very high Bangladeshi population.

Jim has an outstanding record on development issues in Bangladesh, where he visits annually with his wife, Dr. Sheila Fitzpatrick, and from where he had returned only four days earlier. During this latest trip Jim met the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to discuss British aid, and visited a catering institute providing employment and training, and HIV victims in a hospital in Sylhet, the region where the majority of the Bangladeshis in the East End of London originally hail from. Furthermore, he met with a Minister from the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs to discuss progress made on women’s rights.

Within his constituency, Jim has worked tirelessly at tackling poverty and racism, and is even currently learning Sylheti to engage with non English-speaking Bangladeshi constituents. Despite this hard work, Jim faces a real fight to keep his seat due to an adverse boundary change, the emergence of the Respect Party, and one of the highest numbers of new constituents in the country.

Bangladesh remains one of the world’s poorest countries and will be strongly hit by the negative effects of climate change in the coming years, unless firm action is taken now. LCID fully supports Jim’s campaign to be re-elected in Poplar and Limehouse so that he can continue to raise awareness and support international development efforts in Bangladesh.

by Sammy Beedan, LCID activist

Phone canvassing with Mike Foster

Come along to Labour Party HQ on Thursday and help us phone-canvass for Worcester MP and International Development Minister, Mike Foster.

Please email nick@lcid.org.uk by this Wednesday evening (17 March) to put your name down to come along. We will need to add your name to the list to get past security.

If you can’t make it to Labour HQ, why not help out using the Party’s Virtual Phone Bank?

Please come along: the evening will be great help to Mike’s campaign and should also be fun (there might even be pizza…)!

See you there!

What has Labour done for Fairtrade?

Today is the first day of the Fairtrade Fortnight, which runs from 22 February to 7 March. Around the world, millions of lives have been touched, changed and improved by Fairtrade: providing decent earnings to producers in developing countries. This year, the theme of the Fairtrade Fortnight is “The Big Swap”. Think about the products you use, could you swap to a Fairtrade equivalent? The aim is to get 1,000,001 swaps by the end of the fortnight.

But what, exactly, has the Labour Government done for Fairtrade?

Since 1997, the Labour Government has supported Fairtrade with DfID funding and from this year, even during the recession, funding will be quadrupled to £12m over the period 2010-13 as part of a joint effort with donors and Fairtrade Labeling Organisations International. This will help bring 1 million more producers into the movement, which in turn means higher wages and better lives for 7 million people across the globe.

Additionally, through “Fairtrade Premiums”, twice as much money will be invested directly into local organisations. These can provide improved irrigation, or medical clinics, which will make a profound differnce the lives of people in developing countries.

The Fairtrade movement is vital because no country has managed to tackle poverty in the last 30 years without also increasing trade. Trade can be the great leveller of the world and help millions out of poverty, raise living standards and increase global prosperity: if it is done right. Fairtrade ensures that producers get the returns they deserve for their products. What we need is fairer, more equitable international trade rules. The Labour Government has been pushing for this for the last 13 years and is providing at least £1b every year for the next 3 years in aid for trade and growth, as well as seeking to enshrine a promise to provide 0.7% of national income in aid every year.

Labour believes in the values of the core of Fairtrade: that everyone across the globe should receive a fair price for their goods and a fair wage for their work. This belief in equity and fairness is shared by countless millions of people: over the last decade, every year we have doubled the amount of Fairtrade produce we buy. Already, 7.5 million people benefit from Fairtrade, which is crucial to development. With continued support from the public and the Labour Government, this can only increase.

Please visit the Fairtrade Fortnight website choose what you will swap for Fairtrade.

By Tim Nicholls

What are your priorities for International Development?

The Labour Party is running a poll on international development. What do you think should be the priorities?

You can take part in the poll on the Global Poverty Promise website. Your responses will be sent to the Labour manifesto team so this is a great opportunity to have your voice heard on international development. The Party will be reporting back on the ideas that get the most support.

Take part in the poll and share your opinions with the manifesto team! LCID is campaigning to make sure that international development stays high up on Labour’s agenda. We need you to take part and help us make our case.

By Tim Nicholls

LCID backs the Robin Hood Tax

Today sees the launch of the Robin Hood Tax campaign by many of the key organisations responsible for the Make Poverty History campaign 5 years ago, including Oxfam, the TUC, ActionAid and Save the Children, backed by Comic Relief founder and film maker Richard Curtis.

LCID would like to urge all party members to get behind the campaign, and at our Launch event last week called on Labour to back a Financial Transaction Tax in our next manifesto.

Essentially, it’s a Tobin Tax, but this time with a more catchy name. Catchier still, they see the tax being split 50:50 between helping fight global poverty and climate change abroad – but also stopping cuts in crucial public services and reducing poverty in the UK.

This could ensure the campaign gets widespread support from a public angry with bankers. A YouGov poll in November found that almost twice as many people would support (53 per cent) than oppose (28 per cent) a financial transaction tax on the basis that some of the money raised would be used to help people hit by the economic crisis in the UK and abroad.

Just 0.05% from international bankers’ transactions could raise up to £250 billion a year, meaning we could:

  • Meet the Government’s target to halve child poverty (£4bn).
  • End the benefit trap that makes it too expensive for people to leave welfare and return to work (£2.7bn).
  • Protect schools and hospitals at home and abroad under threat of cuts.
  • Meet the Millennium Development Goals to cut child deaths by two-thirds, maternal mortality by two-thirds and tackle malaria and HIV/AIDS.
  • Provide resources to enable a deal to be done on tackling climate change.

The key question, however, is how much traction this transaction tax will gain, both in the UK and globally.

What will be the response from all three UK parties? We hope the Labour will strongly back this campaign, and look forward to the response from Douglas Alexander. At out Launch last week, Mr Alexander was broadly supportive but stressed the need for global backing.

Bank job

The coalition stress that unilateral action could be taken, arguing that “the UK Government and European Union should start extending transaction taxes already in existence, such as the UK’s 0.5 per cent stamp duty on shares.” However, as they readily acknowledge, a global agreement is desirable.

The Make Poverty History campaign in 2005 showed both the benefits and limitations of unilateral action. At the G8 debt was cancelled and UK aid substantially increased through a combination of leadership by the Labour Government and an active civil society ensuring support from the UK public. Meanwhile, the failure at the World Trade Organisation talks the same year was partly because there was not enough pressure from civil society in the US and across the EU outside of the UK. The organisations involved will be smart to that, already stressing that the Robin Hood Tax will be a global campaign.

Labour Campaign for International Development wish them the best of luck. This campaign – along with the Global Poverty Promise campaign to enshrine 0.7% in law – are vital in ensuring we continue the leadership shown by Labour in the last 13 years and meet the UK’s obligations in the fight against global poverty.

by David Taylor

The Global #changewesee

Over the last two weeks, hundreds of Labour activists have been tweeting about change they’ve seen in their communities. From new schools, to refurbished hospitals, to libraries, to SureStart centres, the campaign has catalogued hundreds of examples of the tangible differences that the Labour government has made in the last 13 years and reminded us of the stark choice we face at the next election.

But the truth is that #changewesee isn’t just in the UK but around the world. Thanks to the Labour Government’s commitment to alleviating poverty through the work of DFID, in the same way thousands of communities in the UK have benefited from our investment in schools and hospitals, so have tens of thousands of communities around the world thanks to the Government’s record of increasing aid and cancelling debt.

Very few Labour activists will have had the opportunity to see the transformation that has been made to communities around the world, but in their roles as ministers for International Development both Douglas Alexander MP and Mike Foster MP have had the opportunity. At the launch of LCID on Monday night, I asked them to share with us one example of #changewesee during their travels around the world.

Douglas Alexander shared about a primary school in Uganda, recalling how abolishing schools fees on the Friday, saw hundreds of extra children turn up eager to learn on the Monday. He said that each class was full of children, all sat quietly keen to learn. A stark reminder of the importance of how the UK government has been helping to unlock potential through its support for universal primary education.

Mike Foster MP talked about visiting Chars, low-lying sand islands in Bangladesh. He described how this community was prone to the effects of rising sea levels, but thanks to help from the UK government villagers had been able to raise their homes above the level of 2007 floods, develop sustainable livelihoods allowing them to earn an income through growing crops and by helping them to build latrines to reduce the incidence and spread of disease. You can find out more about the visit to Bangladesh in the video below;

If you have a global #changewesee that you have experienced and want to share, please get in touch with us by emailing tim@lcid.org.uk.

By Tom Baker

Supporting Gareth Thomas MP, DfID Minister of State

For the General Election, LCID wants to do its bit to support Labour MPs, be they MPs known for their support of international development, or marginal seats where international development may be of particular importance to voters.

Gareth Thomas MPThis Saturday we went out on the streets of Harrow West to support DfID Minister of State Gareth Thomas, and in just a few hours knocked on many people’s doors, helping to identify Labour voters who we can go back an encourage to vote on the day of the election.

To help out Gareth’s campaign in Harrow West go here, and to hear about our next campaigning events simply sign up to our mailing list.