How Cameron can show leadership on aid at the G8 this summer

To emulate the Labour government's achievements at Gleneagles in 2005, the Prime Minister needs to make progress on transparency and tax.

Sometimes good news isn't boring. Since 2005, when hundreds of thousands of people marched on Edinburgh ahead of the G8 in support of the Make Poverty History campaign, child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa is down by 18 per cent and 21 million more children are in school. African leadership, with financial support from the G8 and other donors, has delivered a remarkable success story that far too few people know about.

The ONE campaign's new report Summit in Sight: The G8 and Africa from Gleneagles to Lough Erne shows that this progress has not happened by accident. African leadership has helped the region to grow by an average of 5 per cent GDP for the past eight years, increasing the resources that governments have to spend on health and education. It was also a deliberate decision by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to put African development issues at the top of the agenda for the Gleneagles summit in 2005 and to give it the political attention necessary to deliver a strong agreement. Eight years later there is an extra £7bn in development aid going to sub-Saharan Africa every year from G8 countries, and the agreement on debt relief has wiped out £22bn. Like all ventures, some of this aid fails but the vast majority improves the lives of some of the world's poorest people, for example by paying for 5.4 million more people to access anti HIV/AIDS treatment.

In the UK, this commitment to extra funding has continued under the coalition government and in this month's Budget, George Osborne can make good on the UK's promise to assign 0.7 per cent of national income to the aid budget from 2013. It would be the wrong time to abandon this promise and it is to the government's credit that the UK is continuing to lead by example within the G8.

While significant progress has been made, that is no reason for complacency. Hunger in Africa has barely decreased since 2005 and despite increases in GDP, inequality remains a severe challenge. African governments and citizens will be the primary drivers of change and the G8 should support that by agreeing an ambitious package on transparency and tax at Lough Erne this summer. It should make progress on giving citizens the information they need to hold their leaders to account and hasten the day when aid is no longer necessary. It should also follow through on its 2012 promise to work with African governments to lift 50 million people out of poverty through investments in agriculture.

This requires the G8 to start by getting its own house in order. David Cameron should secure a commitment from all countries to lift the veil of secrecy on company ownership by putting the names of the ultimate beneficial owners into public registries. This would crack down on shell companies, lifting the veil of secrecy that shrouds illicit financial flows out of Africa. Cameron should also get agreement for all oil, gas and mining companies listed in G8 countries to report the payments they make to governments around the world, on a project-by-project basis. Finally, to ensure this progress in transparency translates into accountability, and ultimately improves the lives of people living in poverty, urgently needed support should be found for supreme audit institutions, revenue authorities and anti-corruption champions.

These are not simple wins for any leader - the reforms challenge vested interests and the systemic causes of poverty that have kept power out of the hands of the many for too long. Cameron must invest time and political capital if he is to emulate the Labour government's achievements at Gleneagles. His "golden thread" theory of development is potentially transformative if translated into real policy progress on hard issues in June. The galvanising effect of the 2005 G8 commitments has helped deliver an extraordinary eight years of progress. Now this government must show they are up to the task.

Joe Powell is senior policy and advocacy manager at the ONE campaign

David Cameron speaks while standing with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at the United Nations. Photograph: Getty Images. P

Joe Powell is senior policy and advocacy manager at the ONE campaign

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.