Cameron's lack of leadership on global poverty is tarnishing Britain's reputation

In contrast to Labour's legacy on international development, the Prime Minister has failed to put the work in to deliver radical change for developing countries.

This week the UN General Assembly is hosting a Special Event on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which seeks to rally support to accelerate progress. It will also clarify the road ahead for the negotiations and agreement on what will replace the MDGs when they expire in 2015. With less than a thousand days to go, this is an important moment which will shape the future of global development.

By virtue of David Cameron's co-chairing of the UN High Level Panel on the post-2015 development framework and the G8 Presidency in 2013, the UK is exceptionally well placed to lead global policy in this area. But Cameron is proving time and time again that he is failing to provide this leadership. He will not attend the UN Special Event on the MDGs this week, nor did he show up for half of the panel meetings of which he was a co-chair. Despite warms words to the effect, the Prime Minister failed to put the work in to deliver radical change for developing countries at the G8 Summit earlier this year. He has also failed to articulate a credible, inspirational vision for development, his "Golden Thread" theory having been widely criticised as ill-defined.

Cameron's lack of commitment and leadership threatens to tarnish Britain's global reputation and stands in stark contrast to Labour's legacy on international development. In 2005, a Labour government used the G8 chairmanship at Gleneagles to increase aid by $50bn by 2010 and brokered ambitious commitments on debt relief and climate change. At the 2009 meeting of the UN General Assembly, Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander led the push to tackle maternal and child mortality by negotiating deals with African leaders to scrap health user fees in Nepal, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Malawi and Burundi. While Labour's leaders fought tirelessly to change the world, this Prime Minister doesn't even turn up for work. Worse still, Cameron reportedly blocked consensus on the inclusion of a goal on universal health care coverage in the High Level Panel's final recommendations.

Whilst in government Labour changed the world on international development and we are working still to make a difference from opposition. I have laid out our post-2015 vision for a new "social contract without borders" which brings together the world's poverty reduction and sustainability objectives.

At conference I announced that we are in the process of developing a centre-left progressive coalition of politicians who share Ed Miliband's vision that now is the time for radical change in the world, not tinkering at the edges. We favour big structural change on tax, trade, climate change and inequality as part of the new UN development framework to be adopted in 2015. We want to see an end to poverty by 2030 but also an end to aid dependency with new relationships between nations built on reciprocity and shared values.

In the months ahead, Ed Miliband and I will be working to build this coalition and the vision we share for the new development framework.I also announced that Tessa Jowell has launched a global petition calling on the UN Secretary General to ensure that a focus on early childhood development and a commitment to integrating the care, support and services to give a child the best start in life should be at the heart of any new global development framework that replaces the MDGs in 2015. We know from experience and evidence in the UK that investing in a child's earliest years makes the biggest difference to that child's life. If it is right for our children, then surely it should be right for some of the poorest children in the world.

The Special Event on the MDGs this week is more than just another international meeting; it provides the opportunity to build global consensus around a new, ambitious agreement on international development. It is about eradicating poverty, putting an end to the scourge of hunger and malnutrition, protecting our planet and ensuring every child reaches their full potential. It is about what kind of world we want to live in and what kind of world we want to leave our children. It is a shame that David Cameron doesn't see this potential and has squandered the opportunity for Britain to show real leadership on the world stage.

Ivan Lewis is shadow international development secretary

David Cameron attends a meeting with Business 20 and Labour 20 representatives at the G20 Summit on September 6, 2013 in St. Petersburg. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.