A few days ago I woke up to the latest (then) scandal emanating from the Home Office. More records in a mess; more criminals lost track of. Immediately I jumped out of bed to put the line together and prepare for the onslaught that each such revelation brings as a Home Affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. Then I remembered -that’s not me any more! I have a new job; now I’m Ms International Development.
On the Monday before Christmas, Ming had telephoned me to offer me the job of International Development in his Shadow Cabinet. Given that I had thought he was ringing to wish me Happy Christmas, that was a very pleasant surprise!
Having spent five years in transport, six and a half years in policing, this is largely new territory for me. So I am in the middle of what probably equates to an ‘A’ level in International Development but without the information absorbing brain of an eighteen year old and with only a few weeks to get up to speed.
My Parliamentary political world up until now has been peopled by Home Office ministers, officials, police, judiciary, youth offending teams and my vocabulary by ASBOs, DNA, stop and search and terrorism. Now it is DFID (Department for International Development), Non-Governmental Organisations, International Development Officers – and AIDS, poverty reduction, sustainable development and so on.
In Home Affairs the daily diet is one disaster after another for consecutive Labour Home Secretaries and a Government that believes new initiatives that sound tough on crime are what matters. Over 3,000 new criminal offences have been created by Labour since they came to government. No wonder the Home Office is falling apart under the strain of continual change and over-demand. By contrast, international development is virtually a legislation free zone and there is much more cross-party agreement.
Flood and famine, drought, disaster, war and destruction – trade, aid, corruption and disease – these are now the currency of my new world. As I read into my new portfolio I am busy thinking how I can make a difference in my new role. Holding the Government to account for what they have promised against what they have delivered – obviously. Pointing out divergence between what they say and what they do – of course. Seeing where I can offer positive proposals – as there’s more to politics than point scoring. And examining carefully the issues around the need to ensure development is green – at the same time as ensuring economic growth.
I think for many people international aid used to be largely a matter of a guilty conscience – a nod in the direction of helping countries less fortunate than ours. But now for a whole host of reasons – including greater international travel which means so many more places feel familiar and the way in which events overseas can help cause terrorism on our doorsteps – I think people more and more see international development as being not just about helping other countries, but helping ourselves too.
It is quite clear to me that in this global village we live in now: whatever happens anywhere in the world reverberates on our own doorstep.
So I am putting a strategy group together at Parliament, and I am studying and learning and listening and looking. So if you have a particular view or interest or think there is something I should know about – then please get in touch.
I would be very interested to hear what you think.
(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2007