For Labour, development is not charity – it is the pursuit of social justice and human rights
I was deeply proud to be appointed Labour’s shadow secretary of state for International Development in Jeremy Corbyn’s first shadow cabinet this September.
There is no issue that better illustrates the internationalism that is at the core of Labour’s progressive politics than our commitment to international development. And in an era that has seen the rise of toxic xenophobic politics across Europe, it is worth reminding ourselves that an outward looking internationalism is not an ‘add on’ to our democratic socialism; rather it should be at the heart of our democratic socialism.
For Labour, development is not charity – it is the pursuit of social justice and human rights.
Labour in government should be proud of its leadership on international development historically. It was a Labour government which in 1964 set up the first Ministry of Overseas Development.
The very first cabinet level minister of Overseas Development was Barbara Castle. She was followed by illustrious names like Judith Hart and Clare Short (the latter was the International Development minister in 1997 when DFID was first created as an independent department.)
We should also never forget the contribution of Gordon Brown who put development issues at the heart of his government, tripled the aid budget and works tirelessly on these issues to this day. And it was Labour MPs who pushed successfully for the last government to commit to spending the international 0.7 per cent target of national output on international development.
With this in mind, In recent weeks, I have been proud to see that the overwhelming majority of Labour voices have strongly spoken out in defence of the international development budget in response to the false suggestion – originally emanating from UKIP and echoed by Conservative MP Philip Davies in PMQs last week – that we should cut the overseas aid budget in order to spend money on much-needed flood defences here.
Indeed, as shadow chancellor John McDonnell MP has pointed out, this is a totally false ‘choice’ to present in that that much of the spending send to developing countries was targeted at helping them green their economies, this is already playing a role in preventing future flooding and that if we were to cut this funding ‘it would be a short-term saving but a long-term cost.”’
Beyond this immediate debate, we need to continue to be strong in our defence of the international development budget and, as Stephen Twigg MP recently argued, ‘it is vital that Labour remains committed to tackling poverty and inequality abroad as well as at home.’
In a world where global issues like climate change and disease outbreaks affect British lives, tackling international development challenges is not only morally right, it is also in our national interest.
This summer, the United Nations Sustainable Development goals were adopted. They set out 17 goals around which we can further develop our international development policies and improve the lives of the poor globally.
In the coming months myself and the team will be holding this government to account on international development, including (as I have written about in more detail this week here) on the growing concerns that this Tory government is using that budget for a different ‘security’ agenda, not solely for international development.
A Labour government elected in 2020 would restore our reputation as a champion of international development, pushing for ambitious global agreements on international development that seek to tackle inequality and its drivers. Let’s make it happen.
Diane Abbott is Labour’s shadow secretary of state for International Development. You can follow the Labour International Development Team on TwitterLike 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.