I recently attended the 2016 Labour and Conservative party conferences.
These conferences bring together the leading politicians and activists of the major parties with journalists, lobbyists, businesses, and NGOs for a few days of set-piece speeches, fringe discussions, and informal meetings.
Fresh from Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, the Labour party conference kicked off in Liverpool and ran from 25-28 September. With only a few fringe discussions on the importance of development, the real highlight for the aid agenda was the speech of the new Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Kate Osamor MP, who focused on what she saw as the ‘militarisation’ and ‘privatisation’ of the aid budget. Osamor expressed concerns that Britain’s 0.7 per cent aid commitment was undermined by it being redefined and diverted away from the UK Department for International Development.
The Conservative party conference, held in Birmingham from 2-5 October, offered an insight into the new Prime Minister’s agenda and provided the first opportunity to hear the new Secretary of State for International Development’s speech to the party faithful and the broader public. Priti Patel set out her commitment to 0.7 per cent, the importance of Britain’s leadership and the fact aid works in the UK’s national interest, as well as the need for economic empowerment and education in the world’s poorest countries. Popular with the grassroots of her party, Patel made a case for development that spoke to a more Conservative worldview and addressed the sector at Bond and Save the Children receptions.
Both conferences provided a real insight into the position of the two parties, on development and other issues, and how best to interact with them. They allowed Sightsavers to have representation at important fringes, establish relationships with leading politicians, including the Secretary of State, and be among the first to see the direction in which Labour and the Conservatives want development to head. Despite obvious differences, both parties agree on the UK’s world-leading commitment to 0.7 per cent, the importance of aid in helping the world’s poorest people, and the role the UK has in delivering it.
By James Hallwood