Cameron's values will impede UN progress

Why Cameron's conservatism will get in the way of the UN millenium development goals.

Yesterday saw the news that Ban Ki Moon has asked David Cameron to chair a new UN committee tasked with establishing a new set of UN millennium development goals when the current ones expire in 2015.

Britain will have the opportunity to maintain the global leadership on international development that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown provided summit after summit during Labour’s time in government. It would be churlish not to welcome that – but I fear Cameron’s conservative values will get in the way of the progressive solutions needed to meet the development outcomes we all want to see. Here’s five reasons why.

First, perhaps in anticipation of a backbench backlash, a government source was rushing to deride the current goal’s focus on basic education and health indicators. “What about new goals to give people property rights or economic rights?” said the source. There is much value in debating the key role economic development plays in lifting people out of poverty, so long as that is not a euphemism for advocating the failed neo-liberal economics of the past. I can send them a copy of Stiglitz’s Globalisation and Its Discontents if they like – detailing the devastation caused by the IMF’s structural adjustment policies and how trickle-down economics doesn’t work – but it would be tiring if we had to cover that ground again. Thankfully, the rest of the world has already moved on. The G20 has replaced the "Washington Consensus" with the "Seoul Consensus" which recognises the importance of both the market and an active state in ensuring sustainable economic growth.

Second, those remarks present a false choice – economic development and advancements in health and education are not mutually exclusive. China’s achievement in lifting 700 million people out of poverty came not only through the economic reforms they made in the 1980’s but the huge investment in human capital made throughout the 1970’s. Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of achieving health and education goals on economic growth - tackling malnutrition could add 4.7 per cent to global GDP, low infant mortality rates can add 3.4 per cent to a country’s growth, whilst improved education can add 2 per cent to growth.

Third, this apparent ignorance masks a bigger problem – they just can’t bring themselves to back public services, despite the essential role they play in delivering health and education outcomes. They refused to back public services over private provision in their green paper on development and are making plans to roll out a voucher scheme in Kenya that subsidies private schools. India is currently drawing up plans to universal health coverage modelled on our own NHS, and yet this government is doing nothing to help them. Elsewhere the UK is halving our funding to budget sector support – the very aid that helps countries build their own health and education systems by giving them the funds required to recruit and retain teachers, doctors and nurses. Around the world more and more countries have put themselves on the path towards universal health coverage – any new development goals that do not prioritise strong public services will be out of touch with this emerging consensus.

Fourth, key to funding strong public services is of course strong tax revenues. To their credit DFID are supporting over twenty countries to develop the capacity of their tax administrations to increase tax collection. But that is undermined by Osborne’s watering down of the UK’s anti-tax haven rules in last month’s budget. The OECD estimates poor countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year as multinationals shift profits made in the former to the latter, and ActionAid estimate that these new rules will cost poor countries £4bn a year. How can Britain have the moral authority to draw up new development targets when we allow our own companies to deprive countries of the money they need to meet them?

Finally, there is growing recognition that any new goals must explicitly target inequality. Whilst the goal to halve proportion of people on less than $1 a day is likely to be met – a laudable success largely down to the China and India economic success – a "new bottom billion" are at risk of being left behind. On current trends it will take more than 800 years for that bottom billion to achieve 10 per cent of global income, and a Unicef study shows that only a third of the countries that have reduced national rates of child mortality have succeeded in reducing the gap between mortality rates in the richest and poorest households. It is no coincidence that the country that has made the most impressive strides towards reducing inequality in recent years – Brazil – is governed by a social democratic party that has rolled out an ambitious social protection program, Bolsa Familia, that has cut poverty in half. Given inequality rose so dramatically during the Thatcher years, and given last month’s ‘millionaires budget’ that saw pensioners take a £3.5 bn hit, can we really believe Cameron will put equity at the heart of the new goals?

Given the world's likely failure to meet many (if any) of the current MDGs, the next set of goals could hardly be more important. They must not be rendered obsolete from the start by clumsy right-wing dogma.

David Taylor is chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development.

David Cameron, Getty images.

David Taylor is chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development.

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
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Unlikely sisters in the Gaza Strip

A former Jewish settler in Gaza recalls her childhood friendship with a young Palestinian.

It was well after midnight, one summer night in 1995, when Inbar Rozy, a 13-year-old living in the former Israeli settlement of Alei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip, heard her parents answer the phone. Sitting up in bed, surrounded by potted plants, candles and fairy dolls lit by shafts of light from a nearby security outpost, Inbar listened closely.

“I could hear everyone talking around me, making calls,” Inbar said when we met recently in Nitzan, southern Israel. When she got up to find out what was happening, her parents told her to make up a second mattress. As dawn broke, they led into the room a young woman carrying a small bag and wearing a black shirt and jeans. “She had shoulder-length dark hair dyed with red henna and beautiful eyes – big, black with thick eyelashes,” Inbar told me, smiling. “[She was] quiet. She looked scared.”

The woman was Rina (her surname cannot be given for security reasons), a talented artist in her early twenties studying at a local art college, where she had fallen in love with a Christian boy. For Rina, coming from a traditional family, marrying a non-Muslim would be strictly forbidden.

When her parents found out, they were furious and forbade her from seeing her boyfriend. But her male cousins felt this wasn’t enough. Earlier on the day the girls first met, Rina’s cousins had attempted to kill her in retribution for her perceived “honour crime”. Seeing that another attempt on her life was likely, Rina’s father called a relative, who in turn called Inbar’s father, Yossef, a friend of many years. There was no doubt she had to leave. Ironically, a Jewish settlement protected by the Israel Defence Forces was the safest place in Gaza for her to be.

In 1967, Israel seized the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the Six Day War. In time, it settled 21 communities on a third of the land, with a population of 8,000 by 2005. Soldiers guarded the settlements from 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, tens of thousands of whom were displaced in 1967 and moved to live in nearby refugee camps. In Gaza, before Israel’s ultimate withdrawal from the Strip in 2005, relationships between Israeli settlers and Palestinians were fraught. True, many Palestinians worked in Israeli settlements, earning wages higher than elsewhere in the Strip, but the two communities lived largely separate lives.

In the mid-1990s, even after the Oslo Accords, violence was simmering. Israeli military incursions increased with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. Thousands of home-made Qassam rockets were launched by Palestinian militants at settlers and those living in southern Israel. Security measures hardened. The veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who spent several years living in Gaza, describes neighbourhoods that were “turned into jails behind barbed-wire fences, closed gates, IDF surveillance, tanks and entry-permit red tape”.

And yet, in spite of the forced segregation, Inbar’s family enjoyed close links with their Palestinian neighbours. Inbar’s father worked as an ambulance driver, and on several occasions he helped transport those who lived nearby for emergency medical treatment in Israel. “Every Tuesday, my father’s Jewish and Arab friends would come to our house and we’d eat lunch together,” Inbar remembered.

Given the gravity of Rina’s situation, she couldn’t leave the house. Secrecy was paramount. The girls spent weeks together indoors, Inbar said, chatting, watching TV and drawing. “I’m not sure that as a child I actually understood it for real,” she said. “She taught me how to paint and sketch a face from sight.”

Almost as soon as Rina arrived, Inbar’s family began receiving anonymous phone calls asking about her. “My dad told me, ‘Don’t mention anything about Rina. Say you don’t know what they’re talking about – because otherwise they’ll come and kill us,’” Inbar said.

While the girls got to know each other, Inbar’s mother, Brigitte, found a women’s shelter in East Jerusalem for Rina. Whereas today Gaza is closed off by a military border under heavy surveillance, at that time it was porous. Brigitte drove Rina in to the capital, where she was given a new name and identity that would enable her to begin a new life, on condition that she contact no one in Gaza.

Today Inbar, who is 33, works at the Gush Katif centre in Nitzan – a museum dedicated to the memory of the Israeli settlements in Gaza. Despite her parents’ objections, the family was evacuated in 2005. Unlike most settlers in Gaza, some residents of Alei Sinai were determined to stay on, even if that meant forfeiting their Israeli citizenship. “I have no problem with living as a minority in a Palestinian state,” one of Alei Sinai’s inhabitants, Avi Farhan, told the Israeli daily Haaretz at the time.

Inbar now lives in Ashkelon, a city of 140,000 in southern Israel, and finds the big city alienating, especially when she recalls the warm relationships that once existed in Gaza. “I’ve never felt less secure,” she told me.

Years later, she learned that Rina had developed cancer and died. “The day before Rina left . . . she drew a portrait of me,” she said, describing how her friend had outlined, in charcoal strokes, the features of the teenager. Her parents packed the portrait with all their belongings in a shipping container the day they left Gaza. Soon after, the container was destroyed in a fire.

“I think if people had given it a chance . . . they would have had these kinds of friendships,” Inbar said, looking back. “We’d get along fairly well if we didn’t look at others as the monsters over the wall.” 

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism