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.

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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

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Katy Wright