Andrew Mitchell MP, Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Rt Hon Tom Clarke MP, MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
Tom Clarke MP welcomed Andrew Mitchell MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. He noted that this was the second in the three June meetings of the What’s Next? series (including the meetings with Gareth Thomas MP on 5 June and Lynne Featherstone MP on 14 June) that would complete this important series.
Andrew Mitchell MP thanked the chair for his introduction. He also thanked ODI for their intellectual input into international development and the support they had provided to him and his colleagues, both in the Conservative party and in other parties.
When he started in this position there had been a feeling that development was a Labour and not Conservative area; however, this ignored the work done by Nigel Lawson, Ken Clarke, Chris Patten, Michael Howard and Linda Chalker. David Cameron was passionate about this issue as was shown by the formation of the policy group run by Peter Lilley. The Conservative Party was committed to reaching 0.7% by 2013, to retaining the International Development Act and DFID, and to having a Secretary of State.
In many ways, the international development agenda was a British agenda and not a party agenda. However, there were three specific areas of policy on which he was pressing the Government to go further and which he would focus on in his speech: aid evaluation, trade and conflict resolution.
On aid, the major issue was aid effectiveness. Public expenditure in the UK would be under pressure and the overall environment would be much less benign, especially by the time of the next election. It would be essential to be able to demonstrate impact and value for money in reaching the MDGs. That meant robust independent evaluation of aid, as the Conservatives had argued in their proposal for an independent aid watchdog. The Secretary of State had made some proposals, but Andrew Mitchell felt he had ‘been nobbled by Sir Humphrey’, and that the proposals were weak.
On other aid issues, Andrew Mitchell supported Aid for Trade and aid through NGOs. He was also supportive of the principle of budget support, but said the Conservatives would be much more wary of corruption than the Government had been.
On trade, it was obvious that this was essential. India and China had lifted millions out of poverty via trade. Pessimism on the prospects for a Doha agreement was not justified: the gap was small and a deal was in reach if G8 leaders would only act. There was more to be done, however. Barriers to South-South trade remained high. He had earlier called for a Pan African free trade area to overcome this problem.
Conflict resolution was probably ‘the most important area’ facing international development policy. Conflict resolution was fundamental to development; it did not matter how much aid and trade were getting through, people would remain poor where conflict persisted. The UN performed an important peacekeeping role but needed to have a more muscular approach. There was a huge challenge in fleshing out the doctrine on the Responsibility to Protect.
Darfur had all the ingredients: the inability to achieve a political settlement; difficulties in delivering relief; problems in securing access for and paying for African Union peacekeepers; the inability to impose a no-fly zone. A number of things could help: bolstering regional solutions to regional problems, strengthening national militaries, and a larger role for NATO.
Climate change would also have an enormous impact and would impact on the poor more than others.
Comments and questions raised during the discussion included:
- Andrew Mitchell was asked about the doctrine of ‘liberal intervention’ and about the implications for the role of DFID. Should it become involved in foreign policy? He thought DFID was not just concerned with aid; Hilary Benn had led on Darfur, for example, including the peace negotiations. Andrew Mitchell thought that careful diplomatic engagement with China would be an essential element in reaching peace in Darfur. The Hollywood campaign on the ‘genocide Olympics’ appeared to be having some effect.
- There was also a question about the difference between peace-keeping and peace-making. Was Darfur ready for peace-keeping? Andrew Mitchell’s own peacekeeping experience had led him to understand that peace-keeping sometimes needed to be muscular.
- The role of the Post Conflict Reconstruction Unit was discussed. This was an illustration of the need for staffing to carry out careful political analysis to inform aid policy.
- There was a question about how the Conservatives would be tougher on corruption. Andrew Mitchell said it was important to be more vocal and less tolerant of corruption than the Government seemed to be. He proposed that General Budget Support should be provided on the basis of a three-year contract.
- Other topics raised included: whether aid induced corruption and undermined accountability; the use of NGO committees to increase accountability; the scope for a trade deal; climate change; gender; and mutual accountability (with reference to governance of the World Bank).
2005 was heralded as a historic year for international development and an unrivalled opportunity for the UK government to provide leadership at the G8 summit at Gleneagles, through the UK Presidency of the EU, at the MDGs Summit in New York and at the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial.
What was achieved? How can the momentum be sustained and what are the major issues and challenges that lie ahead?
This event is part of a series where key people in political world investigate how the momentum gained in 2005 for international development can be sustained. In this event, Andrew Mitchell MP, Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, offers his perspective.