Gordon Brown, then Chancellor, visits a school in Uganda. Development was a personal priority for both him and his predecessor, Tony Blair. (Photo:Getty)
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"Justice, not charity, is what is needed in the world": A new pamphlet looks to put the politics back into international aid

International development has become the subject of cosy consensus. A new pamphlet aims to put that right

What will David Cameron do when he steps down, whenever that is? It seems likely that he’ll take a backseat to allow his wife, Samantha, to pursue her career, quietly raking in cash as an after-dinner speaker but not doing anything that might provoke any headlines.

What we can say with certainty is that he won’t, as both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have done, is devote himself to the cause of international development. In office, it was one of the few tunes that both Blairites and Brownites could dance along to, and it was a personal obsession for both men.

Since then, the issue has fallen off the radar somewhat. For David Cameron, the battle to enshrine the 07.% target of GDP spend in law, against opposition from both the Cabinet and the backbenches, has been his major focus.  Outside of that battle, the heat has been taken out of the development issue as far as politics were concerned, partly because Andrew Mitchell, who held the post under Cameron until 2012, was one of the most committed and hardworking Development Secretaries to have served in the brief. “For a lot of us,” one NGOer told me, “Andrew Mitchell leaving office felt more like a change of government than the election.”

But since then the post has fallen into neglect; occupied by Justine Greening, who is relatively uninterested in the brief, and shadowed for most of that time by Jim Murphy, who saw it as a lesser prize than his old job as shadow defence secretary.  

It is urgent that the cosy consensus is broken up, and soon. Women perform 66 per cent of the world’s work and produce 50 per cent of the world’s food, they make up just 22 per cent of the world’s parliamentarians and own only one per cent of the world’s property. But women’s rights are and gender justice are neglected by government policymakers, with just 14 per cent of the Department for International Development’s country plans tackling the treatment of women and girls as a specific priority. (Damningly, Nigeria, which is still reeling from the abduction of more than 200 girls by Boko Haram, is among the nations where Dfid’s development strategies does not include ending violence towards women and girls as a strategic priority).

Happily, things are changing. Mary Creagh, moved from shadow transport in the last reshuffle, is turning heads in the development sector with her hard work and quick mastery of the brief. And a new pamphlet, Beyond Aid, released tomorrow, will seek to put the politics back into international development. Edited by Glenys Kinnock and Stephen Doughty – now a Labour whip, but formerly a senior Oxfam staffer and SpAd to Douglas Alexander when he was Dfid Secretary – Beyond Aid is about driving forward a radical agenda for the brief, building on the work done by Labour’s Campaign for International Development ginger group.

At the heart of the book is an attempt to move development away from a “direct debit” mentality  - where the 0.7% target is treated as something that exists forever to make us in the west feel better about ourselves, without any end – and towards the aim of “making aid an anachronism”, as Labour’s former shadow minister for international development, Alison McGovern, put it.  With 2015 representing the deadline year for the Millennium Development Goals, and major summits on international development and climate change looming shortly after the election, Beyond Aid may be one of the most important pamphlets of recent years.

Beyond Aid can be read in full here.

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

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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