Martin Horwood MP writes…Justine Greening’s revealing speech on International Development and what it didn’t say

Yesterday the Secretary of State for the Department for International Development (DfID), Justine Greening, gave a speech outlining what she considered to be her achievements in government and giving us a hint at what the Conservatives would focus on in a future government.

Greening’s speech was kept very low key.  This is partly because foreign aid is rarely headline news, but also because the Tory hierarchy are at pains to play down DfID’s work under this government, even its very significant achievements. It was only in November that Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond told reporters that he thought the bill brought forward this year by Michael Moore to enshrine 0.7% foreign aid spending in law was “bizarre”.  When leading Tories are lining themselves up alongside UKIP to take the “aid-sceptic” line, it’s no wonder they weren’t keen to shine a light on what was billed as Greening’s key election speech.

One striking feature of the speech was Greening’s total silence on the issue of international human rights.  She did make welcome mention of justice, the rule of law and particularly property rights, but as if these were purely domestic issues, on which we Brits can generously share a fair bit of homespun experience.  She completely neglected the fundamental role that an understanding international human rights plays in those issues. Has the Conservative Party really dug itself into such a hole over human rights that they can’t even mention the words in a speech about the delivery of sustainable, inclusive development around the world?  Sadly, that seems to be the case.  Coupled with Greening’s fixation on economic development above all else, it should ring alarm bells about the role DfID would play, at home and internationally, under a majority Tory government.

To give credit where it is due, Greening did talk about international development as a cross-government aim. This is exactly what the Lib Dems pushed for in our conference motion last autumn, and it is central to really tackling crippling poverty worldwide.

But ensuring international development is a cross-government goal isn’t just about letting all departments reap the benefits of our position as a leading aid donor.  It’s also about make tough, moral decisions across government which aren’t purely based on short-term economics. That’s why you would hope that any summary of DfID’s work since 2010 would highlight our work on making international companies pay fair taxes in developing countries and perhaps most notably our work tightening the arms trade, culminating in the UK’s ratification of a tough Arms Trade Treaty in April 2014.  The latter wasn’t mentioned at all.  Playing down these achievements raises real questions about the Tories’ future priorities.

DfID under the coalition has also been focussed on an inclusive development policy which ‘leaves no one behind’.  Greening made only fleeting mention of this in her speech.  Yes, DfID has done great work bringing women and girls into the centre of our development policies – not least because LibDem ministers Lynne Featherstone and then Lindsay Northover were determined this would be the case. But leaving no-one behind means so much more than including half the world’s population in development decisions. This government has done more to include marginalised communities in its DfID programmes than any previous government. We’ve sought to help LGBT communities across the world gain access to basic services previously denied to them; we’ve invested unprecedented amounts in the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria, which targets vulnerable groups like drug users in fighting these awful epidemics; and we’ve brought into place a disability framework that means every DfID programme across the world will explicitly address the rights and needs of disabled people. Lib Dems have never shied away from standing up for marginalised communities both at home and abroad. We understand the benefit this brings to whole societies, and the long-term consequences of excluding them.

A modern, cosmopolitan Conservative party should celebrate these benefits as well, but the fact that most Conservatives are probably unaware of Greening’s speech, cautious as it was, leaves me thinking more than ever that UKIP are driving them towards  1950s values that would set our aid programme back decades.

We are weeks away from an election, and Greening’s every word would have borne that in mind. But, I didn’t hear someone pushing a modern and progressive approach to International Development.  I saw ever more clearly that it must fall to the Lib Dems to do this this government. Greening said a lot about DfID’s record last night, but she also gave us vital clues about where her party really stands.

* Martin Horwood is Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for the South West of England & Gibraltar. He is a member of the European Parliament’s Iran delegation. He is Borough & parish councillor for Leckhampton, Gloucestershire.

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  • Eddie Sammon 11th Mar '15 - 3:52pm

    I’m not comfortable with celebrating the 0.7% international aid target whilst letting the 2% Nato target slip.

    I don’t agree with tying spending to a percentage of GDP anyway, I think it increases volatility, but if you keep one commitment then you have to keep the other.

    I’m not going to say more here about the Nato target, but when I hear the 0.7% aid target mentioned I automatically think “2% defence”.

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