One World Conservatism?

What would a Conservative government mean for international development in the UK?  Andrew Mitchell, Conservative Shadow Minister for International Development, addressed this question at a speech in central London hosted by the Politeia think tank on Monday.

The Shadow Minister outlined the ideas laid out in his Party’s ‘One World Conservatism’ paper, which he argued shows an authentic Conservative approach to international development.  At the outset of his speech, he reiterated his Party’s significant commitment to ring-fence the international development budget and to the UN target of 0.7% of national income spent on development by 2013.  He stated that the Conservatives see international development as important for two reasons –

Drawing on the work of the development economist Paul Collier, the Shadow Minister views the world as separated into developed countries; rapidly developing countries and the ‘bottom billion’ of the poorest people most in need of aid and support. Tackling the plight of the ‘bottom billion’ is important because of a moral duty to act, but also because it is in Britain’s national self-interest.  He described the poorest and most troubled regions of the world as the ‘exporters’ of people, in the modern equivalent to the slave trade; ‘exporters’ of diseases, where deadly new diseases could spread and mutate; and ‘exporters’ of violence and terrorism to the streets of Britain.  The message is clear – a strong effective aid policy is in the self-interest of the UK and the wider world.

Further underlying the Conservative approach to development is a rigorous focus on value for money, including strengthening local governance and accountability.  This could happen by a range of means, and Andrew Mitchell described how encouraging accountability could be often as simple as publishing spending charts on the walls of a school so that parents know how the school is spending its budget.

Andrew Mitchell then moved on to describe three main areas of focus which would run through a Conservative government’s policies:

1)      Conflict – which keeps people in poverty. A Conservative government would support the development of a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine to make state sovereignty conditional and allow countries in intervene in domestic affairs to stop massive human rights abuses .  Strengthening the capacity of the African Union to intervene at an early stage of African conflicts would also be an important thread, with UK forces involved in training of African military officers.

2)      Wealth creation and encouraging enterprise. A Conservative government would seek to strengthen countries’ domestic accountability, legal structures and encourage free trade to support enterprise lifting people out of poverty.

3)      Cash. The Conservatives are commitment to ring-fencing the international development budget, coupled with the need to ensure this money is spent in the most efficient way.

Finally, Andrew Mitchell stated that development should no longer be seen as a party political issue, but rather as a ‘British’ issue.  He argued that the view previously advocated by many on the right of the political spectrum, that aid simply did not work, was fundamentally not true.  He  cited the provision of schooling for girls in Afghanistan and the progress on water and sanitation as clear examples of aid working.  He was driven, he said, by what works and not by any specific ideology.

It is clear that Andrew Mitchell and the Conservative Party are taking the issue of international development seriously.  To what degree they are trying to develop a distinctively ‘Conservative’ perspective to development and to what degree they are ‘non-ideological’ in their approach remains unclear.  Either way, whichever party wins the election we will be watching closely to make sure international development remains a priority for the UK government.

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