Ivan Lewis’ speech: clear red water, beyond aid

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.”

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7 Responses to Ivan Lewis’ speech: clear red water, beyond aid

  1. mtega says:

    There’s part of the final quote missing, which is unfortunately left a little empty as it is. This should read:

    “You and I joined this movement to change the world not explain the world as it is. So conference, for us, social justice will always have no borders, only new frontiers.”

  2. owentudor says:

    Now corrected!

  3. Yes, it was a good speech – and certainly moving in the right direction, ie justice not charity, even if Labour still have some way to go on that. Regarding the Tories, actually I’m not sure they even treat aid as charity – so much as marketing for our businesses.

    • owentudor says:

      I think some Conservatives DO genuinely believe in charity, and some Conservatives actually have a more radical approach to development even than most of the UK’s aid agencies – an understanding, for instance, that the economy is central to tackling poverty! But it’s certainly true that I was in DFID recently to meet officials and the room we used had a leftover flipchart sheet headed “What can DFID do for Unilever?” so I guess you may well have a point….

  4. Pingback: Are Labour finding a radical and progressive vision for international development? | Liberal Conspiracy

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