Are Labour finding a radical and progressive vision for international development?


9:30 am - January 31st 2013

by Owen Tudor    


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Labour Shadow Secretary for International Development Ivan Lewis made an important and very welcome speech on international development on Tuesday, about what we should be aiming for once the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015.

It is worth a deeper look, as it sets out a far more strategic vision than his similarly good Party conference speech.

The core of his message was that:

The new framework needs to be values led, rooted in social justice including reducing inequality, sustainable growth and good governance practiced by all development actors. Our overarching aims should be clear and measurable.

By 2030 to have eliminated absolute poverty, begun to reduce inequality, protected scarce planetary resources and ended aid dependency. Ending aid dependency is the right objective for greater equality and the dignity, independence and self determination of nations and their citizens. It should be a core part of the mission of Centre left development policy.

He called his approach a new ‘social contract without borders’ to replace the existing MDGs and the speech is full of commitment to decent work, more jobs, better wages and what is essentially a welfare state approach (eg education, health and sewerage) to international development.

He was even good enough to mention the Robin Hood Tax as one of the innovative possible sources of funding.

He returned again and again to the issues of jobs and tackling inequality, and an international development policy centred on those two themes would I think be both popular domestically and effective abroad.

It would be a good summary of a decent social democratic policy for the UK as well, and he and his shadow ministerial colleagues stressed that much of what they were calling for internationally was similar to what Labour is in favour of domestically.

As well as his support for decent work and living wages, he had relatively sharp words for business, calling for ‘responsible capitalism’. And, unusually for politicians these days, he was quite specific about what that meant. Companies that don’t abide by the principles of decent work and sustainable growth shouldn’t get DFID contracts, and all government procurement should be on that same basis.

Criticisms? Well, there were some quiet intakes of breath from the audience about his suggestion that we should end absolute poverty and end aid dependency by 2030. I’m with him on that (at least as a starting point for debate): if we’re going to set targets and outline visions, they should be challenging. How much absolute poverty would we be happy to see around the world by 2030? How much aid dependency would we be happy with?


A longer version of this post is at the Touchstone blog.

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About the author
Owen Tudor is an occasional contributor to LC. He is head of the TUC’s European Union and International Relations Department and blogs more regularly at the Touchstone blog.
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Reader comments


1. Luis Enrique

passing quickly over the absurdity of little old UK ending world absolute poverty, I am not happy with this term “aid dependency” that gets bandied around.

If somebody needs help, and you help them, they are dependent on your help and there’s nothing wrong with that.

If by saying you wish end their “dependency” you just mean you want to get them into a position where they no longer need help, well fine but in this context that’s just the same thing as saying you want to end poverty.

So why say you want to end poverty and end aid dependency, as if that’s a separate thing from simply being in need of help and receiving it?

There is this idea that if a country is dependent on aid, then that’s doing them harm in some sense, harming the political process, screwing with incentives, causing resources to be badly allocated, whatever. An analogy here is drug dependency – your fix provides short-term comfort, but you’d be better off clean, and drugs are actually making life worse. Well if aid is like that, we need to stop it or change in right now, not by 2030. We shouldn’t be introducing new taxes to help pay for more aid, if aid dependency is a problem in this sense.

of course aid dependency may really just an empty fashionable term, another way for politicians to say we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom whilst pundits and campaigners nod sagely

2. Luis Enrique

passing quickly over the absurdity of little old UK ending world absolute poverty, I am not happy with this term “aid dependency” that gets bandied around.

If somebody needs help, and you help them, they are dependent on your help and there’s nothing wrong with that.

If by saying you wish end their “dependency” you just mean you want to get them into a position where they no longer need help, well fine but in this context that’s just the same thing as saying you want to end poverty.

So why say you want to end poverty and end aid dependency, as if that’s a separate thing from simply being in need of help and receiving it?

There is this idea that if a country is dependent on aid, then that’s doing them harm in some sense, harming the political process, screwing with incentives, causing resources to be badly allocated, whatever. An analogy here is drug dependency – your fix provides short-term comfort, but you’d be better off clean, and drugs are actually making life worse. Well if aid is like that, we need to stop it or change it right now, not by 2030. We shouldn’t be introducing new taxes to help pay for more aid, if aid dependency is a problem in this sense.

of course aid dependency may really just an empty fashionable term, another way for politicians to say we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom whilst pundits and campaigners nod sagely

Some observations:

1. government to government aid does not generally work, though local small-scale aid often does help relieve human suffering

2. India – a country I know and love, btw – has the largest number/% of poor people, and yet is a functioning democracy with nukes and a space programme…er? Surely, aid here enables the elites to ignore the poorest…

3. Aid is not needed for development – see Korea

4. The UK is probably the most indebted nation on earth – if we include government, government PFI, consumer and corporate debt – and we might possibly need aid ouselves soon.


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