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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What happened when a couple accidentally recorded two hours of their life

The cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic.

If the Transformers series of movies (Transformers; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Age of Extinction; and Transformers: the Last Knight) teach us anything, it is that you think your life is going along just fine but in a moment, with a single mistake or incident, it can be derailed and you never know from what direction the threat will come. Shia LaBeouf, for example, thinks everything is completely OK in his world – then he discovers his car is a shape-shifting alien.

I once knew a couple called Dan and Fiona who, on an evening in the early 1980s, accidentally recorded two hours of their life. Fiona was an English teacher (in fact we’d met at teacher-training college) and she wished to make a recording of a play that was being broadcast on Radio 4 about an anorexic teenager living on a council estate in Belfast. A lot of the dramas at that time were about anorexic teenagers living on council estates in Belfast, or something very similar – sometimes they had cancer.

Fiona planned to get her class to listen to the play and then they would have a discussion about its themes. In that pre-internet age when there was no iPlayer, the only practical way to hear something after the time it had been transmitted was to record the programme onto a cassette tape.

So Fiona got out their boom box (a portable Sony stereo player), loaded in a C120 tape, switched on the radio part of the machine, tuned it to Radio 4, pushed the record button when the play began, and fastidiously turned the tape over after 60 minutes.

But instead of pushing the button that would have taped the play, she had actually pushed the button that activated the built-in microphone, and the machine captured, not the radio drama, but the sound of 120 minutes of her and Dan’s home life, which consisted solely of: “Want a cup of tea?” “No thanks.” And a muffled fart while she was out of the room. That was all. That was it.

The two of them had, until that moment, thought their life together was perfectly happy, but the tape proved them conclusively wrong. No couple who spent their evenings in such torpidity could possibly be happy. Theirs was clearly a life of grinding tedium.

The evidence of the cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic: the idea of spending any more of their evenings in such bored silence was intolerable. They feared they might have to split up. Except they didn’t want to.

But what could they do to make their lives more exciting? Should they begin conducting sordid affairs in sleazy nightclubs? Maybe they could take up arcane hobbies such as musketry, baking terrible cakes and entering them in competitions, or building models of Victorian prisons out of balsa wood? Might they become active in some kind of extremist politics?

All that sounded like a tremendous amount of effort. In the end they got themselves a cat and talked about that instead. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder