In the UK the Labour Party is the Opposition to the Coalition Government. Being in Opposition is difficult, but it does give political parties the opportunity (and responsibility) to rethink their approach to a whole range of issues. Is the Labour Party of Ed Miliband delivering on this responsibility in the area of international development?
From talking to many of the new MPs and some of the very experienced members of the House of Lords at the Party Conference in Liverpool this week, it is clear that the Labour Party still cares deeply about international development.
There is a lot of energy being dedicated to searching for new ideas and and a new narrative on international development--one that matches the realities of the 21st century (going beyond 2005 And All That) with the core values the Party holds dear.
What might such a narrative look like?
• Dissolve the “us and them” in development--share ideas on solutions to common national problems (e.g. how to reduce inequality, how to provide and effective and affordable social welfare system, how to empower citizens) and devise solutions together on global problems that are common to all (e.g. climate change, infectious disease, security).
• Focus on progressive growth—not growth for growth’s sake, but growth that creates opportunities and jobs for those at the bottom of the pyramid, reduces poverty and inequality and is resource sustainable. Find ways of supporting new blends of private and public sector action to support this.
• Focus on progressive climate financing—financing that asks the most from those who have benefitted the most over the decades from the untaxed emissions of carbon dioxide. The Financial Transactions Tax (are we at a tipping point on this?) will be one step in this direction, although most of its cost will likely be transferred to bank customers (not progressive, but at least proportionate). Keep the pledge to use no more than 10% of ODA for climate financing.
• Work better across government departments—as more countries graduate from LIC to MIC status, the call on ODA as we know it will decline, and because donor countries will be under pressure to reduce ODA, agencies like DFID will need to rely increasingly on the quality of their arguments, not their budgets, to steer other departments towards development outcomes
• Keep the promise on 0.7% of GNI to ODA--but revisit the issue of whether ODA should be more targeted to poor countries or to poor people
Some elements along these lines are emerging. But whatever the specifics are, two things seem really important:
(a) make sure core values (community, opportunity, solidarity, fairness) flow through the entire approach. Authenticity counts for a lot in shoring up public support for international development and for driving party members and
(b) fire up the Leadership about the agenda.
Harriet Harman is said to be allocating considerable energy to the development brief, and that is important, but it was the Blair-Brown energy that has made the UK a leader in development in the last decade. Ed Miliband has been party Leader for a year only and domestic issues have dominated his agenda, but if he is not seen to be more committed to international development by the time of the International Development Policy Review launch in Sept 2012, a big opportunity to shift the debate—and to reposition Labour-- will have been missed.