Labour's International Development Policy: Internationalism, Globalisation, and Gender

By Riley, Charlotte Lydia | Renewal : a Journal of Labour Politics, January 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

Labour's International Development Policy: Internationalism, Globalisation, and Gender


Riley, Charlotte Lydia, Renewal : a Journal of Labour Politics


Kate Osamor, A world for the many not the few. The Labour Party's vision for international development Labour Party 2018.

In March 2018, Kate Osamor, then Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, launched the Labour policy paper A world for the many not the few, setting out a future for Britain's aid policy under a Corbynite government. The document is remarkable for a number of reasons: firstly, its conception of Britain's role in the world; secondly, its framing of aid and development policies and the purpose of these policies; and thirdly, its repeated and explicit invocation of a feminist approach to aid and development. This explicit engagement with feminist politics in a field which has been so shaped by patriarchal structures is welcome; but Labour could do with a more critical engagement with the long legacies of imperialism in British policies and the complicated history of the party's own role in this imperial history.

In this policy paper, Labour sets out a socialist internationalist approach to aid: rather than emphasising markets and economic globalisation, instead the world is presented as interconnected through shared rights, needs, duties and responsibilities. The concerns of the developing world are presented as important, in part, because Britain is part of a 'single, interconnected system'; the threats of 'inequality and ecological breakdown' affect 'us all', regardless of where in the world they occur (pio). There is also a strong sense of Britain's moral duty to those beyond its borders, drawing on a universalist conception of the value of human life. The report argues that Britain should, therefore, aspire to be a nation that 'looks outward and is forward thinking' (pi2), although how Brexit would impact on this aid policy is somewhat underdeveloped; the UK, for example, is currently the second biggest recipient of EU grants to civil society organisations (CSOs), many of which work to reach out beyond borders.

A world for the many attempts to build a fundamental sense of identification with and solidarity with people in the developing world, claiming that 'what people need and want in the UK, people need and want everywhere': from 'basic needs' like alleviating hunger, to job security, access to free healthcare and education. This draws on non-governmental organisation (NGO) and CSO language, which has long focused on a rights-based approach to aid and development. However, the statement that 'around the world, our needs, our rights and our struggles to achieve them are one and the same' risks downplaying the disparity in human rights and access to basic resources around the world. People's needs might be the same everywhere, but some groups of people are orders of magnitude further away from fulfilling those needs than most people in advanced capitalist countries are.

As well as this rights-based approach, A world for the many states early on that 'poverty, hunger, inequality, injustice and climate change are not natural'. This stands in contrast to the de-politicisation of humanitarian crises that often shapes aid and development policy; instead, Labour here is clear that these problems are 'human-made' (p9). The de-politicisation of humanitarian crises - the presentation, for example, of the 1983-5 Ethiopian famine as simply caused by food shortages rather than being the result of a decade of civil war and human rights abuses - is a historic trend in British aid and development policy. This tendency has been encouraged by two factors: firstly, the British government is usually unwilling to recognise crises in the developing world as being rooted in global, historic, systemic inequalities in which the British state has been complicit. Since decolonisation, there has been a particular tendency for Britain to imagine the global south, and especially Africa, as lawless, tribal and suffering - a hopeless, helpless continent - in order to avoid critically considering the long-term effects of colonialism. …

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