Ivan Lewis’ speech to Labour Party Conference today was more than a conference pleasing attack on the right-wing dinosaurs like Lord Ashcroft who want to see the overseas aid budget cut. It was also an argument against the paternalist, charitable vision of DFID’s agenda that Andrew Mitchell has bequeathed Justine Greening before riding off into the sunset on his bike.
Ivan was putting forward a vision of development that went beyond state-funded charitable giving to people in the global south. It was based on the notion that what Labour stands for in Britain it should stand for abroad as well: social and economic justice, action against tax havens, a welfare state for the world. As he put it at the end of his speech, “social justice will always have no borders, only new frontiers.”
Of course, he did defend the aid budget, and reiterated his commitment to spend – and legislate for – 0.7% of Gross National Income on aid. That, and his commitment to initiatives like a focus on early years education, garnered support from the traditional charities. That was always one pillar of the Blair-Brown compromise between aid and development.
But he also argued for a different approach, beyond the concentration on numbers of bed nets and food parcels. His call was for a development model based on “decent work, decent labour standards for workers everywhere” (a nod to the ILO that the Conservatives have reduced their support for through a review that the National Audit Office has recently said was unfair to standard-setting bodies). A development model with good governance, rights and equality at its heart.
The core of his argument was this:
“The Tories believe in trickle down economics. We believe in the inextricable link between economic prosperity and social justice. The Tories view aid as charity. For us, development is the pursuit of social justice and human rights.”
And he finished with an activist’s rallying cry for a better world:
“You and I joined this movement to change the world not explain the world as it is. So conference, for us, no borders, only new frontiers.”