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.

Getty
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The failed French presidential candidates who refuse to endorse Emmanuel Macron

While the candidates of the main left and right parties have endorsed the centrist from nowhere, others have held back. 

And breathe.

At 8pm on Sunday night France, Europe, and much of the West let out a huge sigh of relief. After over a month of uncertainty, scandals, rebounds, debates and late surges, the results of the first round of the French Presidential Election was as predicted: Emmanuel Macron (24 per cent) will face off against Marine Le Pen (21 per cent) in the second round of the election on the 7 May.

While polls have been predicting this face-off for a while, the shocks of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump had thrown polling predictions into doubt. But France has a good track record when it comes to polling, and their surveys are considered some of the most reliable in the world. The irony is that this uncertainty has meant that the polls have never been so central to a campaign, and the role of polling in democracies has been a hot topic of debate during the election.

The biggest surprise in many ways was that there were no surprises. If there was a surprise, it was a good one: participation was higher than expected: close to 80 per cent – on par with the Presidential Elections of 2012 – whereas there were concerns it would be as low as 70 per cent. Higher participation is normally a bad sign for the extremes, who have highly motivated voters but a limited base, and who often do better in elections when participation is low. Instead, it boosts the traditional parties, but here instead of the traditional right-wing Republican (Fillon is at 20 per cent) or Socialist parties (Hamon at 6 per cent), it was in fact the centre, with Emmanuel Macron, who benefited.

So France has so far not succumbed to the populist wave that has been engulfing the West. The contagion seemed to be spreading when the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost a referendum on reforming the constitution, but the fightback started in Austria which rejected the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in its Presidential election and voted for the pro-European, former-Green independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen. Those hopes now rest on the shoulders of Macron. After having dubbed Angela Merkel the leader of the free world during his farewell tour of Europe, Barack Obama gave his personal blessing to Macron last week.

Many wondered what impact Thursday night’s shooting on the Champs-Elysées would have. Would it be a boon for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration platform? Or even right-wing François Fillon’s more traditional law and order approach? In the end the effect seems to have been minimal.

In the second round, Macron is currently predicted to beat Marine Le Pen by more than 60 per cent of the vote. But how does Le Pen almost double her vote in the second round, from around 20 per cent to close to 40 per cent? The "Republican Front" that saw her father off back in 2002, when he received only 18 per cent of the vote, has so far held at the level of the two traditional political parties. Both Hamon and Fillon have called to vote for Macron in the second round to stop the Front National - Hamon put it nicely when he said he could tell the difference between political opponents, and opponents of the Republic.

But not everyone is toing the line. Sens Commun, the anti-gay marriage group that has supported Fillon through thick and thin, said that it will not call to vote for either party – a thinly veiled invitation to vote for Le Pen. And Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative, Catholic and anti-EU right wing candidate, whose 5 per cent is the reason Fillon didn’t make it to the second round, has also abstained from calling to vote for either. It is within this electorate that Le Pen will look to increase her vote.

The other candidate who didn’t call to vote for anyone was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fell back on a demagogic position of saying he would follow the wishes of his supporters after having consulted them. But as a spokesperson for the FN pointed out, there are remarkable congruities between their respective platforms, which can be categorised as a populism of the left and a populism of the right.

They in particular converge over the question of Europe. Aping Brexit, both want to go to Brussels to argue for reform, and if none is forthcoming put membership of the Eurozone to the electorate. While Le Pen’s anti-Europeanism is patent, Mélenchon’s position is both disingenuous and dangerous. His Plan A, as he puts it, is to attempt reform at the European level. But he knows fine well that his demands, which include revoking the independence of the European Central Bank and putting an end to austerity (the ECB, through its massive programme of quantitative easing, has already been trying to stimulate growth) will not be met. So he reverts to his Plan B, which is to leave the European Treatises and refound Europe on a new basis with like-minded members.

Who those members might be he hasn’t specified, nor has he explained how he would leave the EU - at least Le Pen had the decency to say she would put it to a referendum. Leaving the European Treatise has been in his programme from the beginning, and seems to be the real object of his desires. Nonetheless, having set himself up as the anti-Le Pen candidate, most of his supporters will vote for Macron. Others will abstain, and abstention will only help Le Pen. We’ve been here before, and the last thing we need now is complacency.

 

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