By H M Zaheer
Why should we consider international development as an issue when voting in the 2010 General Election?
In a world of evolving social media, 24-7 news and unlimited communications, politicians are realising the importance of Generation Next. This varied group of young people may not know it, but they make up a considerable size of the population and will play a decisive role in electing our next government. The mainstream parties are aware of their importance and are actively seeking their electoral support, as this influential demographic contains British politics’ future movers and shakers. For many young people, 2010 will be the first time that they will vote in a General Election. They will consider an array of issues that will influence their ultimate choice at the polls. The economy, education and health may be the first or only things that young people will consider when voting. But there is one issue often than not that is neglected – international development. Such is its neglect, even by the mainstream media, that the BBC doesn’t even list it under a separate tab for the parties and issues page of its online election coverage. Must it be considered as a stand-alone topic? Or should it be relegated as a non-primary matter? This article will briefly examine the aims of international development and the three main parties’ stances on it.
What is international development?
International development is a broad area and cannot be defined in detail by one sentence. But in a generic sense it includes financial and non-financial support provided by developed nations to third world countries. Foreign aid is not only provided during humanitarian disasters. It is also provided on an on-going and bespoke basis to allow certain developing countries to attain external assistance to cover their basic necessities. These efforts are undertaken to reduce the global economic inequality gap. This is primarily done through investment in projects, focusing on education, health, peace building as well as responding to climate change and natural disasters.
Such is the importance of international development that the UK has a governmental department (DFID) dedicated to this agenda. They work on various programmes, ranging from debt relief to regeneration. For the period 2008/2009, they spent £5.5bn in foreign aid, which “will increase to £7.8bn by 2010/2011”. The money is not given out on an unconditional basis and is regulated through various checks and procedures. While DFID is committed to providing aid to the poorest of nations, as well as those in urgent need of it, they will only do so subject to “getting concrete results for the support”. This guarantees that the investment for each country is not wasted and is going to good causes. In recent years, they have committed themselves to achieving the UN-endorsed Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
It must be noted that non-repayable foreign aid plays an important role in acting as a mechanism for debt relief. This is provided on a voluntary basis. The fact of the matter is that loans provided by developed nations to third world countries are not serviceable in the short or long-term. Their GDPs are not high enough to pay off the full debt as per their arrangements, which have created a quagmire, of debt constantly building up. Effectively in many cases, they are barely able to make repayments on interest. The debt crisis is so severe that “the developing world now spends $13 on debt repayment for every $1 it receives in grants”. The money that they do pay back could have been put to better use to helping people in their own countries. As a result, foreign aid provided as a financial grant is a necessity for third world nations, as it allows them to offset some of their overall debt.
What are the three main parties saying on international development?
Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have all pledged to increase foreign aid to 0.7% of Gross National Income by 2013. In terms of how this money will be spent, they have their own approaches and methodological differences.
For an outline of Labour’s International Development agenda, you can consult the White Paper entitled Building Our Common Future.
“With billions of people around the world living in poverty, we have an urgent moral and practical imperative to make our international development policy more effective”
For an outline of the Conservatives’ International Development agenda, you can consult the Green Paper entitled One World Conservatism.
For an outline of the Liberal Democrats’ International Development agenda, you can consult the paper entitled Development in Downturn.
Why your vote counts
We live in a globalised society and as a consequence of this we have to act upon our collective consciences for a fairer world for all. Neglecting this point will undermine the true interdependent nature of modern day sovereign nations. Essentially there is a fine line between helping yourself and helping others in less fortunate circumstances. As a result, your vote will decide Britain’s future on international development, which already affects millions of lives around the world.
Under the UK’s first-past-the-post system, your vote will make a direct difference to the MP that is elected in your constituency, rather than uniformly affecting the national result. But it could be the difference between having an MP that actively supports international development and an MP that shuns it all together as an insignificant concern. And if you’re not happy with the elected MP’s views on international development (or any other policy matter), you will have to wait up to five years until the next time to have a say in voting them out.
Public money is being spent on international development. As a stakeholder in this society, you have a legitimate say in how your money is spent at home and abroad. For many people, the best way of expressing political opinion is at the ballot box. As a young person, it’s your duty, responsibility and right to vote – so make the most of it and acknowledge the importance of international development. In the search to better Britain, and the wider world, in the coming decade, taking a stand and using your vote is a powerful first step to change.
H M Zaheer read History and Politics at SOAS, University of London and then went on to complete a Masters degree in History at the same institution. His postgraduate research primarily focused upon the Middle East, with specific reference to the end of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of modern day Turkey. He is currently working in an international support role for a Legal Publisher.
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