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2 March 2015

“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

By Stephen Bush

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).

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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.