What are we here for?

Larry Elliott’s piece in Monday’s Guardian highlighted the failure of the IF campaign to challenge the British government on the key issues of poverty, inequality or development, and posed the same existential question as Sunit in his post on this site last month, namely: what is the non-governmental sector actually here for, if it is not to hold government to account? Sally Copley has responded on behalf of IF in the letters pages of today’s Guardian, claiming that the campaign might one day get tough on Cameron but still bigging up the prime minister (contrary to all available evidence) as a force for good in the world. Against this, another letter went in from a small group of us agreeing with Larry, and noting that it was precisely the concerns he expressed that led to our establishing the Progressive Development Forum last year.

The two responses encapsulate neatly the divide in the British international development sector at the present time. On the one side, aid agencies linking up with the British government to create a ‘golden moment’ on hunger while leaving unchallenged the unequal power relations that condemn people to persistent poverty. On the other, social justice organisations and trade unions pressing for positive alternatives to Cameron’s agenda, and openly challenging a government which is wedded to promoting the most extreme forms of neoliberal capitalism, in the UK and abroad. The coming G8 festivities offer an opportunity for NGOs to choose which they feel to be the more appropriate response to government-led austerity and structural adjustment. Watch this space for more details of the full programme of anti-G8 actions and events currently being planned for the week of 8-15 June.


About John Hilary

Executive Director at War on Want
This entry was posted in Campaigns, Media. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What are we here for?

  1. Sunit Bagree says:

    Hi John

    I think Larry Elliott makes some good points in his piece, although I was very irritated by this line in relation to Make Poverty History: ‘a G8 agreement that delivered on aid and debt, if not trade’. It really didn’t!

    Regarding the IF campaign, I actually agree with their demands (and the campaign is very different from the ridiculously narrow agenda adopted by the government’s so-called Hunger Summit), although:
    i) the demand on transparency is rather weak (and won’t prevent MNCs from undermining the right to food).
    ii) the campaign ignores other important issues like speculation, waste, attitudes to food, control over productive resources, etc – I know one campaign can’t do everything in this area; but the questions here are prioritisation and communication (i.e. not pretending that there will be ‘Enough Food For Everyone IF’ the 4 demands are met).

    Regarding the campaign’s letter to the Guardian, to be fair, one never knows if and how it has been edited. But as War on Want and others have pointed out, talk is cheap, and the government’s recent actions on tax have been quite disturbing.


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