Ivan Lewis – 2013 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Ivan Lewis, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, to the 2013 Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Conference, this is a historic year for our commitment to international development.

And I want to start by saluting you. Without your campaigning, your passion and your values there is no way the United Kingdom would have reached the historic landmark in 2013 of spending 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas aid.

It would never have happened without you. And it would never have happened without the leadership of a Labour Government.

A Labour Government which tripled aid, transformed DFID into a world leading development agency and ensured the world wrote off debt.

A Labour movement working with the decent majority of the British people in pursuit of social justice at home and abroad. That combination was unstoppable then and can be unstoppable again in the future.

When the cynics say politics doesn’t make a difference. All politicians are the same. Remind them who created the National Health Service, who established Sure Start and who introduced the national minimum wage? And yes conference, who put Britain on the road to delivering its responsibilities to the poorest in the world. Labour, Labour, Labour and Labour again.

Friends, too often we have allowed foreign policy to either be the preserve of an intellectual elite or fundamentalist anti-Europeans. Today, I signal our determination to take the fight and the arguments to the squeezed middle. That the interdependence and interconnectivity of the modern world is not a choice but a reality.

People’s cost of living – their food bills, the costs of their fuel and the jobs which will be available to our kids and grandkids in the future are all influenced by developments way beyond our borders. That is why fair trade, energy security, tackling climate change and tax dodging are relevant to the everyday lives of people in our country.

And to those who say we can’t afford to spend less than 1 penny in every pound on overseas aid, I say you are wrong. The One Nation Britain I love is a compassionate Britain, a Britain committed to fairness, a Britain which wants to see no child anywhere in the world left without food, a decent education or access to universal healthcare. A Britain where people give record amounts to Comic relief year after year in the good times and the bad.

But also a Britain which understands our world is changing. We can’t allow short term austerity to undermine our long term national interests. Our aid recipients of today will be our trading partners of tomorrow. ‘One Nation One World’ is not a slogan but a living breathing expression of today’s interconnected and interdependent world.

So Conference, what of the Tories?

Of course, I welcome their decision to honour our commitment to 0.7. But the difference between them and us can be summed up in one sentence. “I didn’t come into politics to help poor people.” The chilling words not of some rogue right-wing Tory backbencher, but Justine Greening, David Cameron’s choice to be Secretary of State for International Development.

Well, Justine I have a message for you this morning. I did come into politics to help poor people. So let’s bring this election on. And swap jobs as soon as possible.

In only three years the Tories have squandered Britain’s world leading legacy on international development. David Cameron was unwilling to put the time in in the run up to the recent G8. This led to disappointing progress on the tax dodging which costs developing countries millions in lost revenue.

Cameron has also failed to turn up for work at several key meetings where UK leadership on development could have made a real difference.

And in typical Cameron style in retreat from the right wing of his party he has sought to face two ways. One day he says increasing aid is morally right, the next he panders to the right and makes false claims that in future it will be primarily used to plug holes in the defence budget or support business.

A divisive Prime Minister leading a deeply divided party. For him, aid detox for the nasty party; for us, development an expression of our core values.

Last year at Conference I asked Tessa Jowell to launch a global campaign to ensure investing in early childhood is put at the heart of the new post-2015 development framework. This summer Tessa and I visited Malawi where we saw for ourselves how in difficult circumstances and against the odds organisations like Sightsavers are offering hope to disabled children and their families.

Today I can announce that Tessa is launching a global petition to mobilise people across the world to send a clear message to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that an integrated approach to the early years should be at heart of international development.

If Sure Start and children’s centres are right for our kids then surely their underlying principles must be applied equally to the poorest kids in the world.

And Conference, when we think about the poorest kids in the world let us reflect on what the children of Syria are facing today – witnesses to and victims of horrific violence.

One million children made refugees; almost two million unable to go to school. That’s why it is so important that we not only do our part but galvanise other countries to step up to the plate and fulfil their responsibilities. Unfettered access for humanitarian agencies must now be the immediate top priority for the international community.

Conference, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have made it clear Labour will apply iron discipline to the use of taxpayers’ money. This will mean a Labour DFID from East Kilbride to offices around the world will only invest in programmes which offer value for money, deliver change for the poorest and seek to support self-sufficiency and end aid dependency. We will always to be the first to respond to humanitarian crises.

A tough independent inspection regime will inspect both DFID programmes and DFID offices. Where programmes aren’t delivering they will be ended, where offices aren’t performing they will be subject to special measures. And we will end the scandal of private consultants inspecting private consultants.

We will work with business and NGOs to invest in the infrastructure and drive the cutting edge innovation deeloping countries tell us they need. But in return business will have to operate decent Labour standards throughout their supply chain, demonstrate a commitment to environmental sustainability and be transparent about tax and profits both at home and abroad.

Conference, the horrendous collapse of Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh which killed over eleven hundred people should be a wakeup call to us all. Fair rights for workers, progressive trade unionism and decent jobs should be the hallmark of successful economies and civilised societies. They will play a central role in Labour’s progressive development policies for the twenty-first century.

In 2015 the world will come together to agree a new framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals.

A framework which will apply equally to all countries. Where developed, developing and middle income countries have an equal stake in change.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis and with the emergence of new economic and political powers such as China, India and Brazil this is a big opportunity to recast the values which shape our world. For us, business as usual is simply not acceptable. We want to see a focus on inequality, not just poverty, growth which is sustainable and benefits the poorest. Good governance which deals with the responsibilities of donors and multi-national companies as well as governments in developing countries.

We have set out our vision for a new social contract without borders which brings together the world’s poverty reduction and sustainability objectives. Today I can announce we are mobilising global political change from opposition. We are in the process of developing a centre-left progressive coalition of politicians who share Ed Miliband’s belief that now is the time for radical change in the world, not tinkering at the edges. We favour big structural changes on tax, trade, climate change and inequality. We want to see an end to extreme poverty by 2030, but also an end to aid dependency with new relationships between nations built on reciprocity and shared values.

In only 18 months we will be fighting an election in this country. The Tories will try to persuade the British public that international development is safe in their hands, that Britain’s role in the world is governed by cross-party consensus. Conference, don’t believe it. Our commitment is different, deeper-rooted in our history, broader in its ambition, and above all more firmly based on the values of social justice.

When we come to the election, international development won’t be an issue we just tick off and pass by. It is an issue we will have to fight for.

You see Conference, the difference between us and the Tories is we didn’t come into politics to explain the world as it is, we came into politics to change the world.