In the digital age of YouTube, Twitter, camera-phones and an instant and round the clock news, natural disasters on the other side of the world flash on our screens within moments of happening. The death and destruction caused isn’t previewed or censored when the images are broadcast in real time. Through advances in technology and communication the world has gotten smaller and closer, we now truly live in a global village.
Labour’s approach to these challenges, and our response to them, can be summarised in one word – leadership. In line with the fundamental Labour value of internationalism, we need to champion international development on the domestic and global stage. The next Labour government must ensure that its pursuit of equality, fairness and social justice goes beyond the borders of the United Kingdom, winning the support of the UK public in recognising and fulfilling our global obligations. Whenever there has been an international disaster, whether the Indonesian Tsunami, the Haitian earthquake or the Pakistani floods, the UK – both the public and the government – have held out the hand of friendship and given significant support. We must harness and build upon this innate sense of responsibility we feel to others.
Through history, Britain has seen the most significant advances in international development under the leadership of Labour in government. The very notion of prioritising it was crafted by Labour when we established the Ministry for Overseas Development in 1964. For decades the department yo-yoed between a portfolio in its own right under Labour and being merged into the Foreign Office under the Tories. Two defining moments in its evolution were the International Development Act of 2002 and the establishment of DFID as we now know it in 2009.
At the heart of our efforts was the idea that aid should be a hand-up not a hand-out; to encourage the growth of self-reliance in place of aid-dependency. In these influential years, Labour trebled the aid budget and committed expenditure of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income. The current government are under the spot-light, having hosted the G8 and the prime minister’s seat at the UN high level panel on Millennium Development Goals, but are so far resisting implementing 0.7 per cent GNI into law.
International development is not just in our human interest, but is also in our national interest. As citizens of a globalized world, one shift in the geopolitical balance of power can send reverberations right around the world, including here in the UK. We can improve security at home through assistance abroad; conflict resolution abroad means greater security at home. Growing economies overseas means greater trade opportunities at home. With a rising diaspora we build new relationships abroad but also strengthen cultural links right here in Britain.
Under a Labour government, the UK must return to being not just a supporter of development but a leader in shaping developmental priorities. We can start by leading by example here, implementing country by country reporting on the London stock exchange to shine a light on where multinational companies pay their tax.
Developing countries lose three times the amount of money they receive in aid through tax evasion by multinational companies. DFID invested £20 million to improve Rwanda’s tax collection, resulting in tax revenue there quadrupling to over £240 million since 1997. This model must be replicated.
My confidence in the UK regaining its gold-standard is not just based on budgets but a much more reliable asset: our people. I have had the privilege of visiting some of the most challenging places on the world including Gaza, Pakistan, India, DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and in all of these places I have met fellow Brits dedicated to improving lives. Leading projects, training others and sharing expertise. A local example, Strathclyde Police and Fire teams training recruits in Pakistan to deliver the 1122 Pakistani emergency services.
It is often said that international development doesn’t win you elections. Of course the bread and butter issues of the economy, schools and hospitals will be the primary focus in campaigns. During our campaigning in 2014 and in the run up to the general election, we must engage with non-government organisations who share our vision for a fairer world and gain their support. We should take our message to the doorsteps that we are the party of internationalism and all those who wish to see a more equal and prosperous world should put their trust in us.
In 2014, Labour must be the champion of international development to once again lead the UK as the gold standard.