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

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

I'll vote against bombing Isis - but my conscience is far from clear

Chi Onwurah lays out why she'll be voting against British airstrikes in Syria.

I have spent much of the weekend considering how I will vote on the question of whether the UK should extend airstrikes against Daesh/Isis from Iraq to Syria, seeking out and weighing the evidence and the risks.

My constituents have written, emailed, tweeted, facebooked or stopped me in the street to share their thoughts. Most recognised what a difficult and complex decision it is. When I was selected to be the Labour candidate for Newcastle Central I was asked what I thought would be the hardest part of being an MP.

I said it would be this.

I am not a pacifist, I believe our country is worth defending and our values worth fighting for. But the decision to send British Armed Forces into action is, rightly, a heavy responsibility.

For me it comes down to two key questions. The security of British citizens, and the avoidance of civilian casualties. These are separate operational and moral questions but they are linked in that it is civilian casualties which help fuel the Daesh ideology that we cannot respect and value the lives of those who do not believe as we do. There is also the important question of solidarity with the French in the wake of their grievous and devastating loss; I shall come to that later.

I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister as he set out the case for airstrikes on Thursday and I share his view that Daesh represents a real threat to UK citizens. However he did not convince me that UK airstrikes at this time would materially reduce that threat. The Prime Minister was clear that Daesh cannot be defeated from the air. The situation in Syria is complex and factionalised, with many state and non-state actors who may be enemies of our enemy and yet not our friend. The Prime Minister claimed there were 70,000 ground troops in the moderate Free Syrian Army but many experts dispute that number and the evidence does not convince me that they are in a position to lead an effective ground campaign. Bombs alone will not prevent Daesh obtaining money, arms and more recruits or launching attacks on the UK. The Prime Minister did not set out how we would do that, his was not a plan for security and peace in Syria with airstrikes a necessary support to it, but a plan to bomb Syria, with peace and security cited in support of it. That is not good enough for me.

Daesh are using civilian population as human shields. Syrians in exile speak of the impossibility of targeting the terrorists without hitting innocent bystanders. I fear that bombing Raqqa to eliminate Daesh may be like bombing Gaza to eliminate Hamas – hugely costly in terms of the civilian population and ultimately ineffectual.

Yet the evil that Daesh perpetrate demands a response. President Hollande has called on us to join with French forces. I lived in Paris for three years, I spent time in just about every location that was attacked two weeks ago, I have many friends living in Paris now, I believe the French are our friends and allies and we should stand and act in solidarity with them, and all those who have suffered in Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, Lebanon, Tunisia and around the world.

But there are other ways to act as well as airstrikes. Britain is the only G7 country to meet its international development commitments, we are already one of the biggest humanitarian contributors to stemming the Syrian crisis, we can do more not only in terms of supporting refugees but helping those still in Syria, whether living in fear of Daesh or Assad. We can show the world that our response is to build rather than bomb. The Prime Minister argues that without taking part in the bombing we will not have a place at the table for the reconstruction. I would think our allies would be reluctant to overlook our financial commitment.

We can also do more to cut off Daesh funding, targeting their oil wells, their revenues, their customers and their suppliers. This may not be as immediately satisfying as bombing the terrorists but it is a more effective means of strangling them.

The vast majority of the constituents who contacted me were against airstrikes. I agree with them for the reasons I set out above. I should say that I have had no experience of bullying or attempts at intimidation in reaching this decision, Newcastle Central is too friendly, frank, comradely and Geordie a constituency for that. But some have suggested that I should vote against airstrikes to ensure a “clear conscience” ’. This is not the case. There will be more killings and innocent deaths whether there are UK airstrikes or not, and we will all bear a portion of responsibility for them.

A version of this article was originally sent to Chi Onwurah's constituents, and can be read here