Gordon Brown, then Chancellor, visits a school in Uganda. Development was a personal priority for both him and his predecessor, Tony Blair. (Photo:Getty)
Show Hide image

"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. He usually writes about politics. 

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
Show Hide image

Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories