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The Conservative Manifesto: A Reading

(This was written on a plane to China, and without internet access. I’ll add links later)

The Conservatives have won the election. We want to know about their plans for international development. So the obvious thing to do is to read the page or pages on development in their manifesto. Right? Well, obviously, ‘yes’. But also ‘no’, or ‘not only’, and for two reasons. First, because there are many other aspects of policy which relate to development policy: trade, for example, and security policy, and migration, and climate change. Second, and more interestingly, because sometimes the more general parts of the manifesto can tell us things about overall philosophy or general approach which will also inform development policy.

In the case of the 2015 Conservative manifesto, the development section is relatively straightforward, but there is more in other sections dealing with international affairs, and there are also tantalising ideas in purely domestic sections. There is, for example, a strong commitment to an active industrial policy. All manifestos need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but it does seem to me there is material here to build on.

There needs to be a development White Paper, probably in 2016, and new legislation on international development. Drawing on the Conservative manifesto, I propose an initial table of contents for a White Paper, issue-based not instrument-based. Careful use of the  manifesto could make this a document which covers new territory.

So, let’s take the 84 pages of the Conservative manifesto in three bites.

What does the manifesto say about development?

First, the development section, found on Pgs 78-79. This consists of only 547 words, including titles, sub-titles and call-outs. It comes at the end of a chapter on ‘Keeping our country secure’, and with the title ‘Tackling global challenges to make you safer and more prosperous’. That in itself is an interesting framing, with a strong focus on the self-interest motivation for international development rather than altruism – though the first sentence redresses the balance somewhat by saying that ‘tackling global poverty is both the right thing to do and in Britain’s interests’.

In setting out policy, the document is mostly aid-focused. It retains the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, stick to OECD/DAC rules defining official development assistance, and meet global transparency standards.

The manifesto then lays out a series of aid priorities to ‘save lives’: immunisation, education, nutrition, water and sanitation, humanitarian relief, and health (including vaccines). A results-focus is evident, and there is a commitment to expanding payment-by-results. The manifesto says that the British Government will ‘ensure all money to governments is clearly earmarked for specific purposes’: no general purpose budget support, then.

Beyond saving lives, the manifesto contains commitments to ‘tackle the causes of poverty and promote gender equality’. That includes working (actually ‘pushing’) for new 2030 goals to eradicate extreme poverty and promote human development, gender equality, and good governance  - and to support programmes in these areas. Climate change is mentioned, as are growth and trade, though without specific commitments. The golden thread of democracy and representative institutions is noted, and programmes for girls and women. Human rights are not mentioned explicitly.

Finally, the manifesto says that ‘we will help you fight poverty’. This paragraph commits to trebling is size the programme of International Citizen Service and to double the Aid Match scheme. There is also a commitment to boost partnerships between UK institutions and counterparts abroad, and to help people in the UK give or lend money directly. There is no specific commitment to NGOs.

Reading this, my first thought was that the manifesto offers business-as-usual: a continuation of the policies first introduced by Andrew Mitchell and tweaked by Justine Greening: a strong focus on results, important commitments to the social sectors, further development of the growth agenda, more work on women and girls, explicit programmes to engage UK citizens, and all with the underpinning of David Cameron’s golden thread. This is not a discreditable agenda, and the fact that resources are guaranteed by the 0.7 legislation means that much can be achieved. It is very much an aid agenda, however, and even within that arena leaves some questions unanswered. There is no text, for example, on how many countries should receive assistance, including the vexed question of aid to middle income countries. Nor is there any discussion of the balance between bilateral and multilateral aid, nor the rebuilding of global institutions. And it is really notable that non-aid issues are not discussed.

What about related topics?

So let’s try a second bite. This involves looking more closely at those sections of the manifesto which deal with obvious development-related topics. Perhaps we can find development links in other places? Chapter 2, for example, has sections on bank regulation and tax avoidance, Chapter 3 contains a section on immigration, Chapter 5 has a section on energy, and other sections of Chapter 7 deal with security. Here are some things I learned the Conservative Government intends to do:

  • make sure our financial services industry is the best regulated in the world;
  • lead international efforts to ensure global companies pay their fair share in tax;
  • push for all countries to sign up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative;
  • review the implementation of the new international country-by-country tax reporting rules and consider the case for making this information publicly available on a multilateral basis;
  • ensure developing countries have full access to global automatic tax information exchange systems;
  • continue to build the capacity of tax authorities in developing countries;
  • make it a crime if companies fail to put in place measures to stop economic crime, such as tax evasion;
  • strengthen the enforcement of immigration rules;
  • introduce tougher labour market regulation to tackle illegal working and exploitation;
  • push for a strong global climate deal later this year;
  • turbocharge free trade, including negotiations for a massive EUEuropean Union trade deal with the USA;
  • further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy;
  • tackle global terrorism and the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism while taking a patient, long-term approach to preventing conflict and state failure;
  • push for an ambitious EU-India trade deal;
  • support India’s bid for permanent representation on the UN Security Council;
  • strengthen our economic links with China, doubling support for British firms selling goods there and championing an EU-China trade deal;
  • stand up for the freedom of people of all religions –and non-religious people – to practise their beliefs in peace and safety, for example by supporting persecuted Christians in the Middle East;
  • strengthen the Commonwealth’s focus on promoting democratic values and development;
  • drive forward the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative;
  • support global processes on arms control; and
  • support universal human rights.

This list (I count 21 items) adds considerably to the aid commitments in the main development section. If the list is compared with the range of topics touched on by the International Development Select Committee, in its recent report on the future of UK Development Cooperation, summarised in Figure 1, it can be seen that many issues raised in written and oral evidence are covered, though of course not always in the form in which witnesses might have wished. Still, throwing these into the mix does suggest that the Conservative agenda is far from an aid-only enterprise.

Figure 1

A key question is whether the wider development agenda will be treated as such. The Select Committee recommended strongly that a White Paper on international development be produced after the conclusion of the various 2015 negotiations, and that legislation also be reviewed when the new Sustainable Development Goals had been agreed. It also examined whether DFIDDepartment for International Development should be given new powers to ensure policy coherence across Government. So, if there is a White Paper, followed by new legislation, will it pick up all the issues listed above? I hope so.

And can we find useful themes in the domestic chapters?

As the new Government starts to think about international development – perhaps as it begins to draft the White Paper and the new legislation – it would do well to make sure that its global thinking is integrated into its overall programme, not treated as something separate. That is where the third step of the analysis comes in, which is to examine the domestic sections of the manifesto for guidance on the overall stance, and for ideas that can be carried over into the international space. I accept that this list is selective, and that it should not be read uncritically, but there are at least eight connections to make:

First, as one might expect, a stance on the economy which emphasises macroeconomic stability, openness, and competition, backed up by institutions to oversee fiscal policy, international agreements to oversee trade rules, and even the European Union to manage the single market. In this respect, the Washington Consensus is still alive.

Second, the sections on the Northern Powerhouse and other regional programmes are fascinating for the enthusiasm they display towards an active industrial policy: investment in infrastructure, a strong commitment to R and D, including new institutions, support for innovation in different industrial and service sectors, decentralisation of planning and spending powers, for example to Local Enterprise Partnerships, and investment in skills, for example via three million apprenticeships.

Third, the strong emphasis on work as the route out of poverty, including for young people. This is to be achieved by growing the economy, thereby creating more jobs, and by equipping people with the skills needed to hold down those jobs, but also by re-jigging the incentives inherent in the welfare system, so as to encourage and reward people entering or re-entering the labour market. This has strong resonance in the debate about how to design social protection schemes in developing countries. Employment guarantee schemes, anyone?

Fourth, a strong focus on the quality of outcomes in service delivery, whether in schools, further education, or the health service. This is to be achieved by higher investment, but also by strengthening inspection and accountability. Public goods are to be provided free at the point of use, but there is provision for continued use of the private sector in delivering public goods, for example in the school and health systems. Decentralisation of management authority to operating units is a theme, avoiding micromanagement from the centre. Was it Hirschmann who wrote, in a  development context, about ‘Exit, Voice or Choice’? We had a meeting series on the subject when I was at ODI.

Fifth, enthusiasm for public participation, in the form of the Big Society, including via volunteering, and, in a different section of the manifesto, via a general commitment to devolution, decentralisation and localism.

Sixth, and I hope this is not stretching the analysis too far, recognition of the importance of asset ownership, especially in the UK in the form of owning a home, but also incentivising saving for retirement, and increasing the flexibility of their eventual use. There is a development literature on that subject.

Seventh, a strong stated commitment to the environment, including countryside, air quality and marine environments, delivered by tighter regulation and some kind of engagement with renewable energy. This will fit nicely with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Finally, recognition of the value of the web of international institutions of which the UK is a member, including the UN, the Commonwealth, and even the EU. Multilateralism will necessarily remain at the heart of UK policy-making.

Now, I am fully aware that the devil is in the detail, certainly figuratively, and some would say literally. There are certainly arguments to be had about market regulation, fiscal policy, energy choices, sanctions in the social safety net, the treatment of inequality, migration, and other topics. Perhaps similar themes as those I have highlighted could be found in the manifestos of other parties, with different detail. But, nevertheless, I think there is material here to work with.

Before anyone charges me with forgetting, it is also important to say that manifesto should also be judged on whether it provides a template for the UK itself to meet the goals and targets of the SDGs. That is a task better left to specialists in domestic policy.

Towards the next White Paper?

The delivery of the commitments in the manifesto cannot wait until the publication of a new White Paper, which logically should not be written until the SDG framework has been agreed in New York in September and the climate talks completed in Paris in December. When the time comes, however, there is a real opportunity to produce a policy framework which is consistent with the Government’s wider stance, and take a broad view of development issues, and not be trapped in aid-thinking.

Ideally, a new White Paper should be issue-based, not instrument based, setting goals and targets for the UK as a whole and not just for DFID, and with accountability mechanisms built in. Poverty reduction would be one such issue, of course, an overarching goal, perhaps best framed as sustainable development, in its economic, social and environmental dimensions. I would like to see an Introduction which says as much, and which provides intellectual underpinning, picking up the general themes outlined above, and then a series of issue chapters, which might (though this is work in progress) cover the following:

  • Delivering a global economy which works for all;
  • Securing livelihoods for all;
  • Leaving no-one behind;
  • Safeguarding the climate and the environment more generally;
  • Ensuring voice and accountability;
  • Peace;

Probably, before finalising this table of contents, I would want to make sure that all relevant topics had a home: migration, trade and global shocks in the global economy chapter, for example; growth, the active industrial policy and employment in the livelihoods chapter; renewable energy and green cities in the climate chapter; and so on. I would also want to make sure that rebuilding global institutions had sufficient prominence. But anyway, if the White Paper is not to be published until next year, I would have time to think and to consult.

Finally, I would also be thinking about HMGHer Majesty's Goverment and DFIDDepartment for International Development capacity to deliver the manifesto themes and commitments, not just in the aid field. Would I want to broaden the remit of the National Security Council, institutionalise impact or spill-over analysis, and recommend improved independent evaluation or parliamentary scrutiny? Yes to all the above. Perhaps that is a final chapter?


# RE: The Conservative Manifesto: A ReadingSheila page 2015-05-22 16:47
You claim that there is 'recognition of the value of the web of international institutions of which the UK is a member':

Not very obvious in the immediate commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from international commitments on human rights. Or indeed in the emphasis on what we can get out of the EU and how to minimise taking in refugees.

Treating international institutions only as tools of domestic policy is neither an international commitment nor a good example to other countries.
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