The Tory right are wrong: the 0.7% aid target is not just moral but smart

The aid recipients of today can become the trading partners of tomorrow. Cutting now would be a betrayal of the poor and our national interest.

The UN have compared the devastation in the Philippines to the Boxing Day Tsunami, the Red Cross described the scene as "bedlam", and hardened journalists on the ground say they have never seen anything like it before.

There is no question that the scene in Tacloban and much of the Philippines represents a full-blown humanitarian crisis – more than 4,000 dead, over 13 million affected and three million displaced. One week on, as aid slowly begins to trickle through, experts warn we are entering the peak danger zone for the spread of infectious diseases. And with sanitation and clean water scarce, dysentery, diarrhoea and E.Coli are now real and growing threats.

Here at home, the British people have once again responded with tremendous generosity. We all know times are tough, yet still the DEC appeal has already raised over £35m – and during a week in which Children in Need also raised over £30m. Of this we should all be proud.

And as sure as night follows day, as aid comes once again into the spotlight, it is no surprise that the siren voices of the Tory right are calling for a reduction in the help this country gives to those in desperate need. In a week when the British people have shown such extraordinary generosity that’s not just utterly out of touch – it’s wrong headed too.

It all comes down to a simple question. What sort of world do we want? Safe, prosperous and fair would be pretty near the top of most people’s lists. That is part of what international development is for.

In the five minutes it will take you to read this, more than 400 children will be immunised against preventable diseases thanks to projects supported by British aid. Because of that programme, 500,000 lives will be saved - 500,000 individual tragedies prevented. 

But a simple truth remains - far, far too many aren’t getting a fair chance in life. So the moral case for keeping our promise on overseas aid is overwhelming. Lives are saved, children are educated and communities get a fair chance thanks to the generosity of the British people. We should take great pride in that.

But giving aid isn’t just a moral choice - it’s the smart choice, too. The world today is interconnected like never before. Our national interest, our economy and our security, depends on the stability of many of those countries supported by DFID.

As a trading nation, we know exporting more will help us tackle some of the structural problems in our economy. And the aid recipients of today can become the trading partners of tomorrow. Where once we gave aid to South Korea, now they are one of our fastest growing markets. Helping South Korea, then, is helping us now.

That’s what international aid is about. Aid isn't about charity; it’s about human dignity. Reducing the need for aid in the future, helping countries create their own wealth and prosperity. More South Koreas, more trading partners and more opportunities for Britain.

And a fairer, more prosperous world is a safer world too. Depravation and inequality lead to desperation and illegality; conflict over scarce recourses and the vile trade in exploited people and a multitude of refugee crises. In many fragile states, youth unemployment runs at over 80%. In today’s globalised world, that’s not just a lack of human opportunity, but also a danger to us all.

As I’ve long argued, the best defence policy can sometimes be world class diplomacy. A more stable world means a safer UK. British aid supports fragile and conflict-ridden states, helps bring them out of the danger zone, and prevents the sort of conditions that breed radicalisation, violence and war. The right thing to do and the smart thing to do. How different could things be today if the world had invested more in securing Afghanistan and Somalia decades ago?

What happens in the rest of the world has an impact on us. That’s why the last Labour government led the international community in development. And we achieved a huge amount – we convinced the world to drop the debt at Gleneagles in 2005, and in 2008 we argued for and won new international commitments on malaria, food, education and health.

Under Labour, this country made a promise to the world that we would give 0.7% of our Gross National Income to overseas aid, a promise that David Cameron has rightly pledged to uphold. That’s not a commitment we can just walk away from - it wouldn’t be right and it wouldn’t be in the national interest.

Britain’s commitment to 0.7% shouldn’t just be about a rebranding exercise for the Tories - it is deeper than that. It tells you about who we are as a country. 0.7% says we are committed to a safe, prosperous and fair world for everyone.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make sure every penny is well spent. Value for money is always important but in these difficult times iron discipline across every government department is absolutely vital - including at International Development. So Labour are clear - we will have a zero tolerance approach to failure, corruption and waste.

In a field where a few pence can save a life, we should seek not to waste a penny. As we build a new global covenant to replace the Millennium Development Goals, we must give what we promised, but we should go further - we must keep innovating, keep improving, and make sure every pound is spent wisely.

Jim Murphy is shadow international development secretary

Somalis displaced by famine queue at a food aid distribution centre in Mogadishu on January 19, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

Jim Murphy is shadow international development secretary and Labour MP for East Renfrewshire

Photo: Getty Images
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Stella Creasy targeted for deselection

Organisers on the left believe the Walthamstow MP is the ideal target for political, personal and geographical reasons.

Stella Creasy, the high-profile MP for Walthamstow and defeated deputy Labour leadership candidate, is the first serious target of an attempt to deselect a sitting Labour MP, the New Statesman has learnt.

Creasy, who is on the right of the party, is believed to be particularly vulnerable to an attempt to replace her with an MP closer to the Labour party’s left. Her constituency, and the surrounding borough of Waltham Forest, as well as the neighbouring borough of Leyton and Wanstead, has a large number both of new members, inspired either to join or return to Labour by Jeremy Corbyn, plus a strong existing network of leftwing groupings and minor parties.

An anti-bombing demonstration outside of Creasy’s constituency offices in Walthamstow – the MP is one of around 80 members of Parliament who have yet to decide how to vote on today’s motion on airstrikes in Syria – is the latest in a series of clashes between supporters of Creasy and a series of organized leftwing campaigns.

Allies of Creasy were perturbed when Momentum, the grassroots body that represents the continuation of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, held a rally in her constituency the night of the Autumn Statement, without inviting the MP. They point out that Momentum is supposedly an outward-facing campaign supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party towards the 2020 general election and the forthcoming local and European elections. Labour holds 27 out of 27 council seats in Creasy’s constituency, while Creasy herself has a majority of 23,195 votes.

“If you look at the seat, there is nothing to win here,” said one Labour member, who believes that Momentum and other groups are planning to depose Creasy. Momentum has denied any plot to remove Creasy as the MP.

However, Creasy has come under pressure from within her local party in recent weeks over the coming vote on bombing Syria. Asim Mahmood, a Labour councilor in Creasy’s constituency, has called for any MP who votes for bombing to face a trigger ballot and reselection. Creasy hit back at Mahmood on Facebook, saying that while she remained uncertain of how to vote: “the one thing I will not do is be bullied by a sitting Walthamstow Labour councilor with the threat of deselection if I don’t do what he wants”.

Local members believe that Mahmood may be acting as the stalking horse for his sister, the current mayor of Waltham Forest, Saima Mahmud, who may be a candidate in the event of a trigger ballot against Creasy. Another possible candidate in a selection battle is Steven Saxby, a local vicar. Unite, the recognized trade union of the Anglican Communion, is a power player in internal Labour politics.

Although Creasy has kept her own counsel about the direction of the party under Corbyn, she is believed to be more vulnerable to deselection than some of the leader’s vocal critics, as her personal style has led to her being isolated in her constituency party. Creasy is believed to be no longer on speaking terms with Chris Robbins, the leader of the council, also from the right of the party.

Others fear that the moves are an attempt by Creasy’s local opponents to prepare the ground for a challenge to Creasy should the seat be redrawn following boundary changes. The mood in the local party is increasingly febrile.  The chair of the parliamentary Labour party, John Cryer, whose Leyton and Wanstead seat is next to Creasy’s constituency, is said to fear that a fundraiser featuring the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, will take an acrimonious turn. Cryer was one of just four shadow cabinet ministers to speak against airstrikes in Syria.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.