25 September 2012

Lib Dems 4 Dev!

The Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) are holding their annual party conference in Brighton this year.

The Lib Dems are a centre left party who have formed a Government in coalition with the bigger, right of centre, Conservative Party (together, The Coalition). 

For the first time in living memory the Lib Dems have real power but they have paid a high price for it in the polls with one count putting them fourth behind the UK Independence Party. 

Languishing in the polls they may be, but they do look to be becoming more influential in UK international development policy. 

They already count among their numbers the highly regarded Sir Malcolm Bruce, chair of the powerful Select Committee of MPs on International Development.  Tim Farron MP, a rising star, is no slouch on development, Baroness Lindsay Northover is a DFID minister in the House of Lords, and now the party have Lynne Featherstone as a new DFID minister.  Michael Moore knows a thing or two about international development and then we have Lord Paddy Ashdown chair of 2011's well respected Humanitarian and Emergency Review (HERR).  The Lib Dems already hold the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Ed Davey) and have Vince Cable in reserve (he was an ODI Fellow in Kenya).

What might they do with this collective influence? 

They will no doubt get more of the Lib Dem agenda into DFID, but what does that look like?  The safe bets are on traditional Lib Dem issues such as the environment and transparency/accountability, and Lynne Featherstone will bring a new energy to efforts to reduce gender based violence and to eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It is good to have this development challenge from within the Coalition--it has been missing.

Perhaps they could get Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg more interested in international development--it might even help to detoxify his current brand.

1 comment:

Myles Wickstead said...

Lawrence, I share your view that there is a real opportunity for the LibDems to carve out their own niche in this area. At the BOND fringe event, I identified two particular areas where I thought the LibDems could make a real difference:

- First, bringing together the three key pillars of development - economic growth, equity and sustainability. The next two or three years provide a real opportunity to do that as we think about the post-2015,post-MDG, SDG settlement; but there is a real risk too that they continue to be addressed in their separate silos (a risk Mrs Brundtland identifies 25 years ago in her prescient Foreword to 'Our Common Future'). The specific elements you rightly identify below, including transparency, minority rights and the environment will be integral to the second and third of those pillars.

- Second, promoting a 'whole of Government' approach to international development. I suggested here that the key principle was 'do no harm', which should inform all our relations with developing countries. 'Aid' is of course one set of policies which impact on our relationship with developing countries (usually, if not invariably, in a positive way). Agricultural subsidies, restrictive trade policies, intellectual property rights, arms sales etc and a number of other issues identified in the Center for Global Development's 'Commitment to Development Index' also impact hugely on that relationship (usually, if not invariably, in a negative way). With Vince Cable and Ed Davey in key positions with some influence over these issues, the LibDems are very well placed to set the agenda on this.

Myles Wickstead