Cookies on oxfam

We use cookies to ensure that you have the best experience on our website. If you continue browsing, we’ll assume that you are happy to receive all our cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Close

What would DfID look like under Labour?

Posted by Katy Wright Head of Global External Affairs

9th Apr 2014

Jim Murphy in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan. Credit: Kent Truog CRS/ CAFOD.

Oxfam's Head of UK Government Relations, Katy Wright, attended Jim Murphy's first speech as UK Shadow Development Secretary yesterday. Here, she gives a thumbs up to what she heard, but raises a few questions on how the fine words can be delivered upon.

Yesterday Labour's Shadow Development Secretary Jim Murphy gave his first speech on development - outlining the direction for DfID under any future Labour government. The speech was very much to 'the sector' - I knew three quarters of the people there and probably follow the other quarter on twitter but just didn't recognise them - but it was what the sector needed to hear:

  • 0.7 as an aid policy is safe - the political consensus remains (tick). 
  • We need to look beyond the giving of aid to address an imbalance of economic, social and political power (big tick). 
  • Inequality must be addressed: we need growth with equity and DfiD needs to focus on equality-boosting programmes like free health and education and social transfers (tickety-tick tick).

Some announcements represented a desire to build on previous Labour policies: return to funding the ILO, the International Labour Organization), return to financing healthcare free at the point of delivery. Some represented a very sensible desire to continue progress made by the coalition government: capacity building for tax-collection in poor countries, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact

But there was some stuff in there that was truly new, such as a greater focus on human rights with a new unit in DfiD and a willingness to divert aid away from the government in a country if human rights are being abused. It's worth noting that this policy was announced with a caveat that it would be controversial, but I think that controversy is less likely to be about the desire to encourage human rights; rather it will be arise around a specific case, and in discussions about how genuinely difficult it can be to impose conditions through aid.

Not everything can fit into one speech, so I am sure that many of the questions we have will be answered in later ones. But to influence those later speeches, and to provide some food for thought, I'll raise just a few of our questions here:

  • There was not a lot on multilateral decision making or how the international system (or what we do as a country) affects development: So that would be questions over carbon emissions, arms, trade, tax-havens, and global tax rules etc. 
  • This decision making is getting more complicated in a world where North-South is becoming obsolete and the UK and EU have less power. On the topic of climate change for instance - which arguably should be one of any future DfID's top priorities - what can a northern development agency do to bolster the voices of developing countries and work with coalitions of the willing to put development at the heart of climate talks? 
  • And finally, any future Labour DfID will presumably be subject to the same political and mechanical constraints within Whitehall that the current one is. How will a future Labour Secretary of State square the drive to show complete transparency and value for money with this vision of an innovative and non-risk-averse DfID

    And how will a future Labour Secretary of State ensure that the Treasury or Business department is listening when they talk about what is really needed - beyond aid - to drive global change

We look forward to hearing more.

Read more

Read more of our blog posts on aid and DfID

Top image: Jim Murphy in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan. Credit: Kent Truog CRS/ CAFOD. Used with kind permission from CAFOD.

Blog post written by Katy Wright

Head of Global External Affairs

More by Katy Wright

Katy Wright