When will the coalition legislate for 0.7% overseas aid?

Cameron needs to show leadership in his own parliament.

On Channel 4 News last night, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was asked why the bill to enshrine in law the commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) on overseas aid from 2013 was absent from the Queen’s Speech. He said the bill is ready:"The law will come… but it must take its place in the queue. The important thing is that we are allocating the budget in accordance to the commitments we’ve made."

The Coalition Agreement, says on page 22:

We will honour our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013, and enshrine this commitment in law.

But, on page 117 of the Conservative manifesto, the commitment, and the timing of it, was more explicit:

Will be fully committed to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income as aid. We will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid. We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.

It’s not entirely clear where exactly this promised legislation is in what Mitchell describes as "the queue." The last parliamentary session lasted almost two years and was one of the longest in history. This Queen’s speech was one of the shortest in recent parliamentary history. And, as the ONE campaign pointed out yesterday, the bill itself is short, with just a handful of clauses. It has already had pre-legislative scrutiny from the international development select committee and there is cross-party consensus. There is no prospect of it being overturned in the Lords. With Labour and Lib Dem support, plus the government’s “pay-roll vote” (ministers and whips) no backbench Tory rebellion could defeat it.

But it is the optics of a backbench Tory rebellion which is encouraging the Tory leadership to push this bill to the back of the queue. UK development NGOs have expressed their disappointment and Labour have highlighted the political symbolism of reneging on the commitment. Looking to countries like Australia, who have broken their aid pledge, or the way that Italy failed to live up to the commitments they made at the G8 in Gleneagles, shows just why this legislation matters. Yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald, reports that World Vision have calculated the consequence of the decision will cost more than 250,000 lives.

The last time they were in office, the Conservatives halved the aid budget. Labour trebled it. The reason the Conservatives made the promise was to achieve all-party consensus and put the issue beyond doubt. It worked.

At the pre-election BOND hustings event, a delegate from Oxfam challenged Andrew Mitchell’s sincerity and said that she did not believe he would keep his promise. Rather than reassure her, to the surprise of the rest of the audience, he questioned her political motives and insisted that, on this issue, there was consensus across all political parties.

If David Cameron is going to show global leadership in as the developed world’s co-chair on the panel creating the next development goals, he needs to start by showing leadership in his own Parliament and seeing off the opposition in his own party.

Richard Darlington was Special Adviser at DFID 2009-2010 and is now Head of News at IPPR - follow him on twitter: @RDarlo

International Development Andrew Mitchell and Chief Executive of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth speak with newly arrived refugees at the Dagahaley refugee camp in Somalia. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.