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.
Nicola Sturgeon and Tony Blair. Photo: Getty
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Nicola Sturgeon's SNP, like Tony Blair's New Labour, is heading for a crash landing

The fall of Tony Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and a fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through radical policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s methodology was so successful and so convincing that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness. Arguably, a form of New Labour won in 2010 and 2015.

But, as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh, when you make, as you will, bad decisions, when the list of enemies grows long, when you’ve just had your time, you’ll fall like all the rest – only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair and of Labour should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. Sunday night’s debate between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of what’s coming – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. This is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’etre is independence; everything else - literally everything else - is just another brick to build the path. And so education reform cannot be either radical or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions or parents. Bricks, you see. Same with the NHS and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature - is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while in reality body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: "it’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs".

But voters show signs of wearying of the predictable blame game and waking up to the time-limited strategy of show-over-substance. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren – things aren’t just not improving, they’re getting worse. The SNP is not keeping its part of the deal.

So, during Sunday night’s debate it was Nicola Sturgeon, not Ruth Davidson or Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs. It will have been a strange experience for a woman more used to public adulation and a clamour for selfies. There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use a food bank (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster): ‘I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish Government]. You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS. Don’t come on your announced visits, come in in the middle of any day to any ward, any A&E department and see what we’re up against.’ She delivered the evening’s killer line: ‘Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you… in this election?’

The list of reasonable criticisms is growing and will grow further. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off, while in England the fee-charging regime has seen the number of students coming from poorer families climb. Ms Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nats’ constitution explicitly prohibits its elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. While total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing. Allowing public self-criticism, far from being a sign of weakness, is a necessary vent for inner tensions and a sign to voters that a political party is something more than a cult.

That ‘cult’ word has long dogged the SNP and its supporters. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning bright, but it has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when it is unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage at times). Claire Austin, the nurse who criticised the First Minister on Sunday, has found herself at its mercy. Immediately after the debate, the Nats briefed (wrongly) that she was the wife of a Tory councilor. The SNP branch in Stirling said Tebbitishly that if she was having to use food banks "maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?" Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s Home Affairs spokesperson, was forced to publicly apologise for spreading "Twitter rumours" about Ms Austin.

The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but we now see it hasn’t gone away - it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated, they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party: it’s the behaviour of a cult.

I might be wrong, but I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly aggravate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and plenty of signs that things will get worse. How, then, do you arrest your fall?

The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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