Martin Horwood writes…Cross-Government International Development in 2015 and beyond

There is no doubt that we are in the midst of the most unpredictable election campaign in recent memory.  Whilst the UK media, and indeed anyone with an interest in politics, has become an expert in polling data and marginal seats, we shouldn’t forget the real impact that these elections will have on the lives of millions of people around the world.

Anyone who doubts that impact should be reminded of Nigel Farage’s ridiculous attacks on UK aid spending in the leaders’ debate last week, topped off by his heartless comments about access to treatment for people who are HIV positive. Much like Labour’s ‘banker’s bonus tax’, Farage seems determined to use our foreign aid budget to fund every one of UKIP’s policies. While our impulse might be to roll our eyes at the absurdity of it all, we mustn’t forget the real damage that this line of aid-scepticim could do if unleashed on the Department for International Development (DfID) in the next government.

2015 is a defining year for international development and decisions will be made that will reach far beyond our own local ballot boxes. In September the United Nations General Assembly will agree the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global accord of development priorities for the next 15 years. At the core of this agreement will be the united vision of eradicating extreme poverty as the top-line objective. This is undoubtedly ambitious, but, considering the success of the Millennium Development Goals, is not an unachievable target.

Despite the best efforts of backbench Conservatives, this year Liberal Democrats made history by passing a bill which made the UK the first major economy in the world to enshrine into law a commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on international aid. This clear display of commitment to ending poverty across the world makes DfID one of the leading national aid agencies in the world, and the next UK government will have a major role to play in these negotiations and in realising the vision of the SDGs. We cannot let any hint of aid-scepticism have a seat at that negotiating table.

We also need to remember that the UK’s commitment to international development doesn’t cease to be important now that we’ve met 0.7%. Whatever the final text of the SDGs, and regardless of how those commitments are to be financed, a Liberal Democrat government would continue to review how UK aid is spent and to ensure that it is effective, transparent and focussed.

This means understanding that development does not begin and end within DfID. Development goes beyond one department. It spans the whole of government, meaning DfID’s own aid programming is only effective when it’s supported by our policies on climate change and trade. Our policy motion on development at last year’s autumn conference acknowledged the importance of this cross-government approach to development, and will frame the approach of Lib Dem ministers in any future government.

Given today is World Health Day perhaps this is best illustrated by DfID’s approach to global health. In order to properly address global health challenges, we must be more ambitious in attacking the social and economic determinants that drive disease and ill health, and impede access to care. This could mean working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to look at how we can fund research and development at universities here in the UK to development treatments and vaccines against killer diseases like polio and tuberculosis. Or working with the Department for Health and using the skills and expertise of our NHS workers to tackle health problems abroad, as we have done to fight Ebola in West Africa.

As most of you will have heard once or twice before, Liberal Democrats believe in creating opportunity for everyone. As the party with internationalism at our core, these beliefs extend beyond our own national borders. Regardless of who we are or where we live, everyone should have the chance to get on in life.  These are the values that have unpinned all of our achievements in DfID over the last five years, and these are the values that we will continue to uphold and defend in this election, and in future governments.

* 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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  • Nick Clegg’s robust response to Farage to the effect that he considered it wrong for the UK to attempt to prosper at the expense of the world’s poorest (does anyone have the precise quotation?) was sadly under reported. Prosperity is not a zero sum game: rising living standards of the poorest benefits all. Those countries that provide help are better placed to benefit from trade opportunities.

    Best wishes with your campaign (it was good to have been out with you yesterday).

  • Wasn’t Martin the MP until the end of last month?

  • Jonathan Brown 7th Apr '15 - 11:52pm

    Well said!

    It’s another argument for staying within and influencing the EU too. Trade has such a huge role to play in development, and as such an important market the EU can shape fairer trade rules and encourage regional trade integration. No chance of that happening with the Tories or UKIP…

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