Making international development a domestic issue

Speech given at Brighton Party Conference, 2007

Looking around the hall, I think a very good number of us pay a fair attention to international news on the TV and give money to overseas charities or emergency appeals.

And I’m sure you’d find good support in this hall for Britain to spend more overseas.

Yet when you look at the scale of deprivation and disasters around the world – this isn’t enough.

The rules of the game have to change!

We need to recognise that one of the big problems with effective foreign aid is that the most effective development projects are the small scale and local – like solar cookers.

But these small scale projects don’t scale up well to making a difference to a whole population, to a whole country or to a whole region.

So what is to be done?

The answer is to supplement the successful small-scale with a focus on preventing the large-scale disasters that can sweep away decades of good work and progress.

Sometimes these are acts of nature which we cannot control. But there are ones we can.

They are the 3Cs: corruption, conflict, climate change

Three areas where Britain is failing to play its responsible role in the world. Three areas where the means to bring about change lie close to hand and close to home. Three areas where Gordon Brown has been failing.

Let’s take corruption first.

Corruption is the source of support for many extremists. It makes it easier for terrorists to find support. It sucks money away from development and those in need.

We should not underestimate the extent to which corruption happens locally – within countries – and needs local solutions. And our colonial baggage is something we need to be wary of.

But Britain is closely entwined in far too much of corruption. So we should tread sensitively – but certainly not be put off by the cynical shouts of “racism” by the likes of Mugabe

So when Gordon Brown next talks about being tough on crime – challenge him as to why some crimes are ok to let go by?

Al Yamamah to name but one – billions in arms sales to Saudi, money in Swiss bank accounts etc. Oh but – I forgot – that’s a crime that’s ok to let pass.

The whole business stinks. I am proud that our party has led the way in exposing Labour and the Tory hypocrisy on it.

It is hypocritical to the point of comedy when the British Government lectures Africans about corruption in the wake of Al-Yamamah.

But Al Yamamah is not the only problem.

When Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha was looting billions from Nigeria, where did $1.3 billion end up? In 23 London banks. Making profits for the banks – off the backs of the neediest in Nigeria.

Where is your moral outrage Mr Brown when it is the City that is involved in crime?

There is much that is good and honourable done in the City, including the generation of vital wealth and jobs for the country.

But there is also a dark, rotten secret. It’s the complicity with financial crime – and with financial secrecy that is used to hide crime.

The financial secrecy we see with off shore tax havens means they play a key role in so much corruption.

But you know what? The vast majority are based in countries that are closely connected with the UK, being Crown Dependencies or Overseas Territories.

And many of the operations in them are run by the subsidiaries of major international banks that also operate in the UK.

That’s right. The tax havens might not be within the immediate reach of a memo from 10. But there’s no doubt that the British Prime Minister can wield massive influence to tackle them.

If he wishes.

If he really wants to be tough on crime – and not just the sorts of crime that get tabloid newspaper headlines.

So the UK must do more to put pressure on our companies, our financial systems, our Crown dependencies and our overseas territories.

And in all of this back scratching – a nasty species has arisen – the Vulture Fund.

An appropriate name if ever there was one.

Fat cats purchase a sovereign country’s debt and chase it aggressively. It’s not illegal but it sure don’t smell too sweet.

Clues to smelling a rat:

Vulture Funds are secretive.

Vulture Funds won’t admit who owns them.

Vulture Funds hide in tax havens.

And although they won’t tell us who they really are or pay our taxes – they’re happy to use our British courts to extract money from developing countries.

We should say – if you want to use our courts – then you must play by our rules. And our rules should say there is a line between legitimate secondary debt and screwing the most vulnerable .

And we should vigorously back the back World Bank’s asset recovery program.

And we should fully support for OECD convention against bribery!

Take Part 12 of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act.

It was meant to tackle overseas corruption – except that it doesn’t apply to the non-UK subsidiaries of UK companies.

Well, those UK companies are here on our doorstep.

Why should we give them a free bye to do what they want with their overseas subsidiaries regardless of what the law says?

If you think the UK’s record on prosecutions for international bribery is ok, just consider this one point.

It’s worse than the US’s record under George W Bush.


And when we talk about George W – Iraq comes to mind.

Now – Iraq highlights vividly the problems that violent conflict within a country brings.

And conflict isn’t confined to the country itself. Refugees flee across borders and violence spills over into other countries.

And there is a similarly bleak picture in Darfur.

80% of the world’s 20 poorest countries have endured major conflict in the last 15 years.

Conflict – the second of the three C’s – wrecks years of development progress – nearly overnight – and leaves a long and painful legacy.

For example, over half of the 77 million children of school age around the world who are not in school are from conflict affected fragile states. That damage to education will have a long-lasting impact – generations without the education or skills to recover from the devastation that years of conflict brings.

Hundreds of thousands of Darfuris have been murdered in the past three years due to the measures taken against them by the Government of Sudan and allied militias. But our government remains unwilling to push for and take part in decisive action.The hybrid AU – UN peace-keeping force must be deployed. The UN has finally resolved it. President Bashir has at least said he will permit it. But not for months and months.

The situation in Darfur needs urgent action – not the slow languid ticking-away of month after month of meetings. Prime Minister Brown should be pushing China to use its powerful influence on the Khartoum government to bring that date forward.

We are, after all, very much looking forward to the Beijing Olympic Games – are we not? Well – let China fear international embarrassment and hostility just as it is wanting to put its best face on to the world.

We need to stop the genocide now. We need to stop it – not only to stop the killing but in order to save any slim possibility of Sudan and Darfur having a successful future in our lifetimes.

If we fail in this it sends out a damning message about what our role in the world has become.

That is why the Liberal Democrats are backing targeted disinvestment – to pressurize the Sudanese government – but by choosing to target specific companies in Sudan that are clearly supporting the genocide in Darfur – not stopping all trade with Sudan.

And again we see that this is part of a wider regional problem, spilling over into Chad, Ethiopia, Somalia and other states in east Africa.

Widespread failure of states has left development dreams in tatters in many places, and is providing fertile breeding grounds and bases for international terrorism.

A good example of where international issues have repercussions right here at home.

So we must take an active role in pushing for international solutions – and for making international institutions more effective, maybe even too reviving Paddy Ashdown’s idea of a UN Staff College to make the UN’s military interventions more effective.

And let us not kid ourselves about the causes of conflict. Read my lips. It’s resources stupid. Energy supply and water. Those are the battlegrounds conflicts to come.

Darfur’s increasing desertification is a key driver of the conflict there. And that battle over the worlds scarce resources brings me to the last of the three C’s: corruption, conflict and the daddy of them all- climate change

Climate change is rapidly becoming the biggest threat not only to us but even more so to the developing world.

Those very parts of the globe that have done least to bring about climate change will suffer the most.

When the earth is poisoned by the ‘developed West’, when we – yes us here in Britain do our part to destroy this fragile ecosystem in which we live – there is one simple consequence.

It is the poorest that suffer. The poorest that die.

In Kenya there have been biblical-scale droughts – millions displaced, and huge numbers of cattle & camels have died. Many rivers have dried up – so whole villages have been devastated; 3.5 million people have been affected, including half a million schoolchildren. The consequences are too large to even imagine.

Another example is in Bangladesh where much of the country lives in the flood plains of two rivers, the Brahmaputra and the Ganges. The latest floods left 1000 people dying and 19 million people displaced when these rivers burst their banks.I could go on. But sadly I’m sure you all know the picture already.

We must face up to our responsibility of how we are complicit in hurting the developing world.

This means radically and drastically cutting our impact on the globe – we need a powerful Climate Change bill with real teeth.

But just as important is helping the developing world with green energy generation.

Let’s us be both ambitious and optimistic, particularly for sub-Saharan Africa. An area of great poverty and so often little progress. It is an area of huge potential for solar power. We have seen what wealth the oil era has brought many formerly poor areas of the world. Let’s aim for the era of green energy to spread those benefits more widely – and support the development of green energy.

And we need to help deliver improved infrastructure and support agriculture- because as long as our emissions are higher than the developing world we have a responsibility to help developing countries deal, adapt and mitigate the destructive effects of climate change.Climate change for which we are so complicit – and whose impact overseas comes back to impact on us – when it triggers wars, when it drives up the prices of our imported raw materials and when it triggers flows of people across the globe – including towards the UKI have talked about the three big challenges we face: corruption, conflict and climate change.

In addressing them, it is so so easy to simply say that, well, we are all fellow humans. We’re part of the same global community. We should care about suffering overseas just as we care about it here at home.

But those are the easy sentiments to express – looking to ourselves, expressing internationalist sentiments we feel comfortable with and just vaguely wishing others held them too.

The real challenge is to persuade those who don’t agree with those sentiments. Those who don’t really care about people in another continent, in another country, or quite possibly even on the other side of their street.

That’s why I have drawn some of the connections between what happens overseas and what happens in the UK.

Whether it is international corruption that feeds the discontent on which terrorists feed; or international climate change that drives up immigration and asylum pressures for our own country; or international conflict that drives up the prices of imports – the real challenge is to make the connection between what happens in other countries and what happens to us here at home, in our own jobs, own homes and our own families.

The real challenge is to make international development a domestic issue.