29 September 2010

Does the Labour Party still care about development?

I have just returned from the Labour party conference in Manchester. And while the leadership outcome dominated, there were several fringe events on international development. IDS organized one, chaired by Ann McKechin MP, member of the International Development Select Committee and Chair of the All Party Group on Aid, Debt and Trade. Tony German from Development Initiatives and Alexander Woolcoombe from ONE were fellow panelists.

Our session was entitled “where has all the aid gone?” This is a question that the UK public routinely ask. The session focused on how to improve the way we communicate about aid and development and how we ensure the aid budget is transformational for sustainable poverty reduction and empowerment - whichever government department is spending it. We will continue the discussion next week in Birmingham when the Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, will be on the panel.

Inevitably the discussion moved on to where does the Labour Party now go on international development? Having established and built DFID to be one of the best in the world, does Labour now merely serve as a watchdog to the Coalition? Or does it develop and advocate its own forward vision for development and DFID? While it has to find the right balance between the two, I hope it does not forget about the vision. It is easier to develop unconventional and lateral thinking when in opposition and Labour must make the most of its time out of government, especially given that it is the only major party sitting across the aisle from the Coalition.

Labour needs to develop whole of government, and indeed whole of society, approaches to global development. These approaches need to do three things: accelerate progress on the MDGs, incentivize sustainable natural resource management and be seen to promote rather narrow self-interests. This outcome is possible but will require immense leadership.

Who will be the advocates for development now that Blair and Brown are gone? The rumours are that Douglas Alexander will move to another position within the shadow cabinet, so his experience and knowledge will not be lost. If so, discussed contenders for his position include Ann McKechin, Gareth Thomas and Ivan Lewis – all worthy candidates.

And what of the new Leader, Ed Miliband? He lead authored the Labour Manifesto, which was strong on development. He was the Climate Secretary, so he is knowledgeable on those issues and might be able to do the difficult job of joining up the two portfolios. And the dividing lines with the Coalition are shaping up: over the role of the multilaterals, the importance of relative poverty, and the need to shape market operations. In his first leadership speech the new Labour leader mentioned the achievements of the previous Government on international development.

Whatever the dividing lines, those within the Labour party who care about international development now need to stand up and be counted. They cannot rely on the extraordinarily strong leadership from the top that the Blair and Brown generated. They may yet get it from Ed Miliband. He surely has lots of more urgent things to deal with right now, but as the months pass he has the opportunity to use international development to help identify, communicate and deliver on the values he wants the Labour party to live by and promote. I hope he takes it.

1 comment:

  1. Labour sometimes boasts too much about it's record on development. DFID was the magic bullet which indeed altered much of the development landscape. Yet the 2000 White Paper showed how much neo-liberalism still prevailed in its mindsets. At the same time, other UK agencies such as Trade have cncelled the efforts of DFId out by promoting agendas that lock the global poor in poverty.

    Personally, I think it's time for Douglas Alexander and Gareth Thomas to leave the DFID shadow team. There must be a new Clare Short in power.