The stark choice on international development at this election

In the last five years international cooperation has stalled, and the world's poorest people are paying the price

International issues are never going to be the biggest vote winners. But as Labour’s manifesto makes clear, we cannot overlook the scale of the international challenge that awaits the next government.

We are facing some of the trickiest foreign policy issues of our time, from a resurgent Russia stoking conflict on the borders of Europe, to a wave of extremist violence across the Middle East. It is the most important year for international development in a decade, with major summits on the Sustainable Development Goals and how we finance them, and a long-awaited opportunity to reach a global agreement on climate change.

And whether it is UK nationals fighting in Syria, the number of migrants to the UK rising, or our weather patterns getting more unpredictable, it is clearer than ever that we cannot separate what happens abroad from our own future in Britain.

Yet in the last five years, international cooperation has stalled in some cases and been thrown into reverse in others. The poorest people in the world are paying the price and so is Britain.

In their manifesto, the Conservatives say they delivered on their commitment to enshrine on 0.7 per cent of GNI on aid, but this law only passed as a private members bill after they couldn’t be bothered to table it themselves, and did their best to wreck it at every stage of its passage through parliament. It was down to Labour MPs and Peers to ensure the bill was passed, with more Labour MPs voting for it then all the other parties combined.

The Conservatives promise further efforts to prevent climate change and help the poorest populations adapt. But the last five years have proven that their promise to be the ‘greenest government ever’ meant nothing. Carbon emissions have gone up, David Cameron only recently talked of ‘cutting the green crap’, and he doesn’t mention the climate at all in meetings with world leaders.

The Conservatives say they will push for new global goals to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. If this was really the case, Cameron would have shown up to the meetings of the UN High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Having landed the prestigious chair role, he gave the meetings a miss and instead focused his efforts at the UN on getting jobs for his mates.

And when the Conservatives declare in their manifesto that they’ll try and reshape OECD rules on what counts as aid to reflect the importance of ‘stability’ – how can we trust that this isn’t another attempt to divert aid towards military spending?

Labour is a party with internationalism in our DNA.  Between 1997 and 2010, the Labour government played a leading role in global foreign and defence policymaking and revolutionised the debate about international development. We created a world-leading development department, secured debt cancellation and prioritised human rights and climate change alongside economic growth.

If Labour gets back into power, Britain can be a progressive powerhouse once again.

When Labour says in our manifesto that we will push for an ambitious target in of net zero global emissions by the second half of this century, at the climate change summit in December, we mean it. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown worked tirelessly as chairs of the G8, G20 and Commission for Africa, as did Ed Miliband at the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009.

When Labour says we will work with other countries at this year’s Sustainable Development Goals Summit to unite the world to eradicate extreme poverty, tackle inequality and climate change, we mean it.

And when Labour says we will promote human rights, increase efforts in fragile and conflict-affected states, and reshape the UN humanitarian system to save more lives, we mean it.

Labour’s vision of internationalism is one rooted in our values. We believe that policies at home and abroad should be about fair shares and reducing inequality. While the Conservatives threaten to leave the EU and further reduce our global influence, Labour believes fundamentally in the value of international cooperation and multilateralism, through the EU and our global institutions.

As Ed Miliband has said:

“More than ever Britain and the world need leadership on tackling poverty, inequality and climate change. This is about ensuring the next generation can do better than the last in this country and around the world.”

A vote for Labour at this election will be a crucial first step towards rebuilding Britain’s place at the heart of a more equal, more sustainable world.

Laura Kyrke-Smith is vice chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.