From the TUC

Labour’s international development scorecard – how are they doing?

16 May 2013, by in International

I blogged on Tuesday about what I wanted to see in Ivan Lewis’ major speech on international development, and now that it’s been delivered, I thought I’d assess it against the targets I set for it (see below for detail). The four issues against which I thought the TUC and unions would want to judge his speech were global leadership; structural change; putting people rather than governments first; and decent work.

The speech addressed all those issues (and more) and I think that what Ivan set out on those issues was pretty much exactly what we’d want to see. There is still work to be done on how some of the challenges he acknowledged are addressed (such as tackling inequality within emerging economies, ensuring decent work is deeply embedded in DFID priorities), but I think Ivan has made significant progress in identifying how a Labour-run DFID would be different from the current incarnation, especially how he would deal with consultants and business, as was trailled in the Daily Telegraph (online only, unfortunately.) He needs to flesh out Labour’s response to Tory policies on promoting private sector development, the numbers game on things like bed nets, and how DFID should address fragile and conflict-affected states. On the latter point he announced a positive new initiative led by Lord McConnell which the TUC welcomes and will engage with.

I think he has done enough to demonstrate a cross-party consensus on aid volumes (even if the Tory right aren’t comfortable with being in that consensus) although I also think that more needs to be done to flush out Liberal Democrat differences with the Conservatives over development policy. That may not really be Ivan’s job though!

Now the detail.

On leadership, he didn’t say all that I wanted to hear on the Government’s failure to legislate on the 0.7% GNI aid commitment, although he was unequivocal in condemning the lack of leadership shown by the Conservatives. My concern is more that, instead of attempting to build bridges with the junior Liberal Democrat coalition partners, whom I think still back the pledge, he included them in the lack of leadership camp. It’s always a judgment call whether the challenge or entice potential allies, but I’d have gone for the latter. He may well be right, though – the Liberal Democrats have indeed been silent on the abandonment of yet another pledge (Nick Clegg could surely at leats have recorded another “Sorry” video?)

Structural change did run through the speech, and I think this is where Ivan is doing best. Opposition spokespeople with experience of the ministerial brief that they are shadowing are not that common, but Ivan clearly understands the issues of international development, and wants to do something radical if he gets the chance. I sometimes worry that he knows too much, and there was certainly enough detail in the speech for development policy wonks to get their teeth into! He committed, explicitly, to a development manifesto rather than an aid manifesto, and if anything demonstrates that he grasps the structural challenge, though, it is this passage, which I think bears expanding in the future:

“Sustainable development has three legs: environmental, economic and social.  It requires us to consider some of the greatest challenges we will face in the future: climate change, sustainable energy, sustainable food supply, population growth and urbanisation as well as the social agendas around decent work, education, health services, access to technology and information.”

On putting people first, rather than countries, he did of course reiterate the point about most poor people being in middle income countries, and he took a restrained potshot at the incredibly clumsy DFID announcement that British bilateral aid to South Africa would be ended. He definitely met the target I set on inequality (“I call on the UN High Level Panel to recommend a new focus on inequality, not simply poverty,”) but I think there is more work to do – by us and the development community as much as by him – on how focusing on people in poverty rather than country rankings should affect DFID policies and practices.

And on decent work, I think Ivan did what we hoped for, especially mentioning the work the TUC is doing with corporates to elaborate the role of decent work in development, and reiterating his pledge to restore DFID funding for the ILO. He stressed the role of decent work, jobs, social protection and so on in helping people to escape from poverty, and we look forward to working more with him on fleshing out those policies over the coming months and years. A key passage of the speech is this, starting with what he would want DFID’s relationship with responsible capitalists to be:

“Businesses will have to demonstrate their activities are sustainable and make a positive contribution to the environment. They will be required to show they are paying fair and transparent taxes both in the UK and in developing countries. Also, against the background of the recent horrendous factory tragedy in Bangladesh, they will be expected to demonstrate a proactive commitment to decent labour standards throughout their supply chain.

“That is why I have asked the TUC and private sector to undertake a substantive piece of work, bringing together representatives from the trade union movement and business to examine what the UK government is doing to support the creation of decent jobs by the private sector in the developing world and what steps will be necessary to ensure this becomes a key element of future UK policy. To be clear, a Labour Government will reinstate DFID’s support for the ILO.”

So, I think it was a good speech. Ivan is, rightly, engaging with trade unions on development just as he would with any other stakeholder, and taking on board those union priorities and policies which would assist in driving forward the progressive vision of development he is elaborating. That’s a welcome change from the ideological pro-free market position, and the tacking towards British interests first, of the current Government.