08 May 2013

What does the rise of UKIP mean for UKAID (and development)?

The local elections in the UK were held last week.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) won 25% of the vote, something not fully anticipated by the major parties.

One senior conservative MP said that UKIP stands for something like a simplified Conservative manifesto from the 1980s: less immigration, less power to Europe, lower taxes, more defence spending, more law and order, student grants instead of loans, traditional marriage, less political correctness etc.

But most commentators agree that people voted for UKIP not for their policies, but for their attitude and outlook (wanting to go back to halcyon days and put the world back in its box) and the fact that they are not (yet) professional politicians who have such a hard time “speaking their mind”.

What does the rise of this newish party (which still has no MPs as these were not constituency elections—those are in May 2015) mean for UKAID and its partners?

1. For the Conservatives in the ruling Coalition, the temptation to move to the right will be difficult to resist.

The ODA budget may be spared a direct hit because the UKIP hot button issues are immigration and a referendum on whether to remain in the EU, and because 0.7 is one of the 3-4 tests the Conservative party leadership has set itself to shed the "nasty party" label.

2. But there will be indirect hits.

  • To stop the growing ODA budget losing the Coalition too many votes to UKIP the Coalition will be under even greater pressure to bend the rules on what is and is not aid. Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Immigration, Climate, Business, Innovation and Science will all be making their case. And the odds on enshrining 0.7 in law before 2015, already long, just got much longer.
  • Again, to make sure there is “more development for the money”, certain types of impact and certain definitions of value for money will gain further prominence. Value for Money will be increasingly conflated with lowest cost, regardless of the value of what is produced for the money. Impact will increasingly short term and the costs of working with DFID will rise for everyone.

3. More generally, the UKIP vote is being seen as part of a bigger trend away from established political parties who are creaking in the increasingly interconnected, multipolar, dynamic, fluid and uncertain world (and not just in Europe but in Pakistan too).

Coalitions may become the norm. Niche political tastes are, via the internet, as easily indulged as our niche tastes in music, literature and art.

Or the established parties may simply be bypassed. Moises Naim, writing in Prospect this month, thinks that politicians are increasingly disempowered by all this and are failing to get things done as a consequence. He thinks this is a bad thing (he assumes that they will generally do the right things). I am not so sanguine. There is a fine line between legitimate checks and balances and gridlock, and the former are often forsaken in the name of the latter.

For development practitioners, policymakers and researchers, the eroding of faith in mainstream politicians opens up new opportunities for change and new risks to manage. Will policy making become more defined by the street, by unruly politics and by social movements? Will new alliances form between unlikely bedfellows? Or could it go the other way with the adopted development policies and approaches the ones that are less identified with a given party? Will that mean the policies are less ideological? Is that a good or bad thing?

I have no clue, but all of this turbulence reminds us that development is all about managing change not dictating it, working with existing national energies and not creating unsustainable ones, and embracing the nooks and crannies rather than trying to fill them in.

Ultimately the rise of UKIP is a marker of bigger changes happening in the world, changes that should favour less formulaic approaches to development. But in the short run UKIP’s rise will mean we will hear more from the aid critics.

It’s going to be an interesting 2 years until the UK election.

1 comment:

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