Follow Conrad on Twitter.
The government's world-leading open data agenda has been a very positive turnaround from past years of secrecy—promising transparency, sharper decision making and data based wealth creation businesses and expertise. Yet even proactive openness hasn't yielded much of this potential so far.
The central problem is that available data has been a long way from practically accessible or directly usable. Very few people (in government or out, as professionals or citizens) can in fact deploy the data efficiently to get answers to their questions and make better decisions. Questions like "Which cities had the most new businesses last year per person?" or "Best transport from Oxford to Les Miserables in London?" Even if the data is out there, you need time, expertise and often specialist knowledge to analyse it.
The way to solve this availability-accessibility gap is by publishing data so it's ready for seamless use by a computer, so called 'computable data'. That's in contrast to current data which is notionally for human use but needs manual coercion or programming for answers to your questions. Of course you need to provide the right interface for each audience for access—whether linguistic, interactive document, app or programmer API (for others to build their interfaces). But the core necessary enabling infrastructure is getting the data in shape by making it computable.
So doing can empower the knowledge consumer to generate the personalised knowledge they need. It can help to take us from 'citizen data access' to 'citizen analysis':
There are many governmental gainers from such an information revolution, particularly if cross-correlated between departments ("School exclusions vs. social workers by region") or with the massive personal data we are each starting to accrue. But long-term the biggest gainer has got to be health, both system-wide and personally. Imagine if tomorrow's sensor-based personal health data can be automatically compared with the NHS's data (potentially the world's largest) to improve diagnostic and treatment hit rates?
By being early as a 'computable country', the UK could also be the hub for computable data, building up expertise for major new fields around Big Data and exporting technology to other countries.
Like all infrastructure projects, making a computable layer on government data isn't free. But we deem data collection to be sufficiently important to currently spend hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of pounds on it—whether through the ONS, within departments, locally or in the NHS. And yet most of that data is barely used. The question is how to get maximum value for the country out of those data assets. This is a case where by investing the extra few percent centrally, government can massively increase the asset value and drive the market forward. If we don't, users would collectively need to spend much more to get that value out; right now they aren't and don't.
It's a bit like a road building programme that does everything up to tarmacing. By putting the tarmac on, the road is dramatically more usable than without; yet as an incremental cost it is relatively modest. Tarmac is today simply considered part of the build-out infrastructure and so should computability for supplied data with some appropriate interfaces.
Other than getting its own data in shape what actions could the government take to make the UK a 'computable country'—where all significant data is ready for citizen analysis?
Why not stipulate that government funded projects and entities such as universities make their data not only open but computable too? In particular R&D funded by government should publish programs as well as computable data so that they can be rerun without set-up costs of the original research, multiplying their value. A 'dead' paper simply isn't sufficient output for technical research.
The UK should also look to a computable version of the US's new smart disclosure plans. Where it's in the public interest, companies and institutions should not only supply information on products and transactions as reports or metrics but also in a computable form. Regulators (eg. of banks and energy companies) must force computable reports—ready to change parameters and ask question they wish of the data without manual work. And as consumers, rather than 'dead' pension statements, you should be able to ask your own questions of the data—"How much bigger would my pension be if I saved an extra £73/month?"
Amongst other benefits, so doing could help to address the targets culture because instead of delivering good numbers for the few metrics on which you know you’ll be judged, your assessment can be based on agile analysis by management. One could label this 'agile targeting'.
Finally what about the skills our population will need to be successful in a 'Computational Knowledge Economy'? It is paradoxical that after arguing computers need to do more analysis work to make data usable by humans, I also argue that humans need to adjust their skills for this new era. But it isn't contradictory because this new automation raises expectations required for success. Using the technology I describe means the envelope of analysis is pushed to the next level. Most people's education is not attuned to handling that.
Maths is at the centre of educational changes needed—computing has fundamentally changed the subject of maths in the real world and allowed its application to big data and messy computations. The very reason maths is so important today to the economy and to everyday life is because computers have enabled its application to all fields. In turn the problems have got tougher because the computers have mechanised calculation and allowed us to work out much more.
Yet in education we've decided people have to learn these calculations by hand and only do them on a computer when they have. The result is simple: they don’t get very far. We're dramatically reducing the conceptual skills people can learn because the complexity, scope and toolset of problems that can be attempted is also reduced. We’re turning out third rate human computers, not first rate problem-solvers.
I believe Brits are naturally good problem-solvers and would do better against other countries with computer-based maths. With this and our leadership position on open data, the UK's in a very good position on the starting grid to lead the race as first 'computable country'. But the race is starting. The next year or two will be critical to whether we win it.
Views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.
Barry Johnston is Senior UK Political Advisor at Christian Aid. He writes in a personal capacity.
Tax dodgers. Off with their heads? Well not quite. But the PM's agenda for the G8 could mark, if not a revolution, then a hugely positive evolution in the global tax system with benefits for rich and poor countries alike. It's a move the foot-soldiers in the Conservative Party should stand full-square behind.
Last week, invitations landed to a pre-G8 event, 'Transparency Revolution: The G8, Tax, Trade and Extractive'. This will mark the beginning of a feverish few days in June in which, it is hoped, the UK can marshal an agreement on greater tax transparency with measures that could herald the beginning of the end for a corrosive practice that has received much opprobrium of late.
Christian Aid's concern about tax dodging stems from the impact it has on developing countries which, it's estimated, lose a staggering US$160 billion annually – vastly more than they receive in aid – to multinationals evading tax. This not only starves already struggling economies of vital financial resources; it also undermines the fiscal social contact by eroding accountability between citizen and state, and drives growing inequality.
This year, Christian Aid together with some 200 other UK NGOs have launched a campaign to draw attention to some of the factors which mean that today nearly a billion people still suffer an acute shortage of food. Called the Enough Food For Everyone: IF campaign, it is urging the G8 to take bold, ambitious action particularly on the issue of global financial secrecy.
While we have seen many great development achievements of the past number of years – 50 million more children in school in the past decade; 14000 fewer children die each day than in 1990; and deaths from measles have reduced by three quarters – the same cannot be said for hunger. One in eight people around the world still go to bed hungry every night and 2.3 million children die from malnutrition annually. This is not only a human tragedy on an epic scale, and the greatest moral scandal of our times, it also a blight on future generations. By 2025 nearly a billion young people will face poverty because of the damage done to them by hunger and malnutrition.
New research published this week by Christian Aid on more than 1,500 multinational corporations operating in three developing countries: India, Ghana and El Salvador shows that those with subsidiaries and/or shareholders in tax havens pay up to 30 per cent less in tax than corporations with no such links. This suggests that multinationals are incentivised to shift their profits offshore and minimise their tax bills in countries where malnutrition is still rife. In India, home to a quarter of the world's undernourished, one in every two children is stunted.
The report goes on to show how one tax haven, Switzerland, has become the global hub for commodity traders thanks to its low tax rates, financial secrecy and trade opacity. These three factors together make the opportunities for abuse legion. Developing countries, it is estimated, could have lost as much as US$578 billion over the period 2007-2010 when trading with or via Switzerland. By comparison, ending chronic malnutrition would cost US$10 billion, and ending hunger a paltry $50.2 billion annually.
With global aid flows falling, poor countries simply cannot afford to haemorrhage this amount of money. To grow food and grow their economies, they must be able to harness the revenues they are due, along with a fair share of the profits of a new mineral boom and increasing trade opportunities.
This is an agenda the Prime Minister has been wise to seize. Recent polling commissioned by Christian Aid showed that public anger, long simmering at the perceived ease with which wealthy individuals and large corporations outflanked hapless tax collectors, has reached boiling point (a view held equally by voters across the political spectrum). But it is also an agenda that speaks directly to the PM's own brand of progressive conservatism, and helps him resolve a niggling policy battle.
With the passing of Lady Thatcher, you can forgive Cameron for pausing a moment to consider how he will be remembered. What footage will fill the newsreels on his passing? While it may not have the existential tingle of facing down the red menace in all its guises, leading the vanguard against global tax dodging may not be a bad place to start.
The PM and supporters in his party have invested a lot of political capital in defending the UK's overseas aid spending. They believe it is the right and proper thing to do, but it is not without criticism, not least from within the Conservative Party. But the debate is, in many ways, a distraction. Long term no-one wants a world where poorer countries are dependent on hand-outs to survive. So those who won't back the PM on aid, should back him on tax. Short of cutting the developing world loose to suffer its own fate, which would not be without danger too all of us, genuine, deep and meaningful global tax reform is a prerequisite for a careful, managed exit from aid dependency.
But it's not just about 'them'. Now the (previously) rich world is also awakening to the impact of tax dodging, understanding the role that vast outflows of wealth to tax havens played in destabilised economies and recognising that in future, both economic and social cohesion will require a fairer, more transparent global tax system.
To quote Burke, a fellow Irish interloper in UK politics, you reform in order to conserve. The status quo is no longer an option. The scale and impact of tax dodging undermines countries' sovereignty and tears up centuries old templates for shaping the relationship between citizens and the state. The OECD, not an organisation prone to hyperbole, recently went so far as to say that the battle against tax dodging was 'about the survival of democracy'.
The PM can begin to mount the fight-back at the G8. This should include new standards for the public disclosure of the real owners of companies and trusts, so that tax dodgers, corrupt officials and criminals can no longer hide their money in phantom firms. It should also include demands for those jurisdictions in the global financial system that offer the secrecy that facilitates abuse, many of them territories under the UK's dominion, to fall in line or face counter measures. That wouldn't be a bad weekend's work.
Cameron's tax revolution. I wonder what Burke would have thought of that?
Views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.
Will Emkes is currently serving as Bright Blue's intern. He writes in a personal capacity.
Follow Will on Twitter: @EmkesW
One of the more puzzling intricacies of our politics is the intransigent stance taken by so many of our representatives with respect to international aid. Our politicians are far too content, in some cases positively willing, to let thought collapse into cliché. With the media often following suit the national debate has begun, once again, to resemble a crazed bi-polar argument.
On the one hand the Tory press loves to run stories detailing DIFD’s bloated and wasteful expenditure. They argue that when it’s not going into the coffers of third-world kleptocratic maniacs it’s being spent refilling the inkpots of E.U. bureaucrats. In short, our commitment to 0.7% is a futile waste of money. Yet on the other side we have the same intransigence. Guardian reading pseudo-humanitarians for whom this heartless stoicism is the most perfect catalyst for the regurgitation of their gluten-free lunch. Such people are just as harmful to the national debate, for they have a blind loyalty to the project, regardless of its ability to create genuine difference. However, in between our collective bouts of highs and lows a reasonable voice must be heard.
Part of the problem is that the rhetoric from both sides often invokes an archaic and outdated notion of development programs. We think of international aid as something akin to the numerous charity campaigns that are screened in the commercial breaks of X Factor and other such programs. Too often aid is depicted as this Victorian form of charity – a residue of post-colonial pomposity.
Consequently, some members of the Tory party are now suffering from what Susan Moeller described as ‘compassion fatigue’. They simply do not have the will to continue spending money when so little seems to have been achieved. They argue that aid is ineffective, so why should we bother? Curiously, the moral argument for aid is very rarely brought into question. Instead, a fatalistic apathy is the primary means of persuasion. This explains part of the hostility to the 0.7% commitment – it is seen as a donation that we must forgo for no apparent effect.
What we need is a post-aid attitude – one that enables us to move away from the typical conceptions and refashion a commitment of a very different sort. At present, we seem to have some modern convolution of paternalistic attitudes prevalent in colonial times. Large bureaucratic structures are the primary mechanism for development projects. Ultimately, the approach is characterized by a ‘we know best attitude’ with little consideration for nuanced understandings of culture and history. In short, we think we know enough about how to fix a country as to impose our own solutions.
Somalia is the most perfect example of this kind of thinking. Why are we financing an unstable parliament, filled with corruption, and already failing to win popular support outside of Mogadishu? Why not engage with those sharia courts that were the best providers of law and order and the most effective defence against the horrors of al-Shabaab in the first place? The same phenomenon is reflected in our failed Afghanistan experiment. The hope that we could build an extension of our own liberal parliamentary democracy is ever diminishing. These examples, as well as many others that could be listed, show that a more nuanced understanding of history and culture is needed, more than anything they point towards the fact that a new post-aid thinking must be pragmatic.
The truth is that this is the more difficult discussion to have – an incessant bickering about 0.7% is the easier one. If we do this then our policy debates can begin to focus not on 0.7% but on conditional and comparative performance figures, (information you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere on DIFD literature). ‘Payment by results’ programs could well be a game-changer in this respect. The effectiveness of PBR programs has been shown in places like Northern Uganda by a number of organisations, especially in the field of education. Another successful idea achieving impressive results over the past decade is the various microcredit programs that operate in the third-world, nurturing the emergence of natural markets and facilitating local trade.
Those that trash the case for international aid seem cynical, in the sense that they cannot see good where it exists. As such, they are blind to new and inventive ways to mitigate the worst effects of poverty.
The future answer to the tragedies of poverty will not be found in large bureaucratic apparatus, dictating the quantities of different development goods and services, but rather, in small and innovative programs that work with each individual community to address their unique needs. The role of government should be to facilitate the solving of problems in cooperation with the many ‘not for profit’ organisations that can provide the expertise. The moral argument for international aid remains intact and unchallenged – what we need now is a new and sensible debate about aid policy.
Views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.
George Buckley is Chief UK Economist at Deutsche Bank.
Follow George on Twitter: @georgebuckley
In his Budget speech last month Chancellor George Osborne said that "We are now actively considering with the Bank of England whether there are potential extensions to the successful Funding for Lending Scheme". That extension was set out in Wednesday morning’s announcement from HM Treasury and the BoE.
The original scheme allows banks and building societies to borrow 9-month T-Bills from the BoE over a period of up to four years in exchange for eligible collateral (i.e. that used in the Bank’s Discount Window Facility, subject to, a haircut) with a drawdown period from the start of August 2012 until the end of January 2014. Under the scheme banks can borrow up to 5% of their end-Q2 2012 eligible (i.e. to the non-financial sector) loan stock plus an amount equal to any net new lending undertaken. The fee is 25bps for banks growing their loan stock between mid-2012 and end-2013, rising to 150bps if the loan stock falls more than 5%. The scheme is thus similar in many ways to the ECB's LTRO programme – but with strings attached to achieve the best rates.
Wednesday's announcement extends this scheme in three ways – lengthening the drawdown period by a year to the end of January 2015, widening the set of institutions that can use the scheme to non-bank financial firms, and increasing the focus on SME lending. The latter part of the extension is perhaps the most interesting. Wednesday's announcement allows banks to drawdown ten times (rather than just pound-for-pound) in 2014 whatever it lends to SMEs in the rest of this year, and five times for lending next year.
Whether this has much effect in stimulating additional lending will depend on how correct the government and Bank of England's judgment is that the problem with SME lending relates to supply rather than demand. The Bank's own Credit Conditions Survey raises some doubts here. While it is true that since the start of 2012 the cumulative credit availability balance to SMEs has been less than 6%, compared to nearly 26% for large firms, it is also the case that demand for loans by small business has contracted more sharply (-60% cumulative) than that for medium (-14%) and large (-28%) firms. Still, the expected demand balance for SME credit rose to a record high in the March survey, which does support the tweaking of the FLS in favour of SMEs.
It is understandable why the authorities wanted to expand the scheme given concerns about its effectiveness. In its February & November Inflation Reports the BoE outlined four stages of FLS – i.e. where and when the scheme should show up in the data. While there is some evidence to suggest the FLS has led to lower bank funding costs (Stage 1) and easier credit conditions/lower rates for households (Stage 2), there has thus far been little improvement in credit availability to SMEs and approvals/net lending (Stages 3 & 4). According to BoE drawings data, while £14 billion of FLS borrowing has been taken up so far, net lending in H2 last year was negative. Moreover, it is debatable how much of the improvement in Stages 1 & 2 has been due to the ECB’s OMT announcement last summer versus the FLS itself.
It is worth bearing in mind that the FLS may appear less successful as financial markets improve, since lower market funding costs would reduce the incentive for banks to use the scheme. This may be a reason for the relatively slow takeup of the scheme thus far. Still, it is early days and with bank deleveraging still ongoing the FLS may not have a sizable effect on lending for some time to come.
The guest blog is published every Friday and views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.
Rupert George is the Head of Communications at Release.
Follow Rupert on Twitter.
In the 1980s the UK faced the twin challenge of a huge upsurge in the number of intravenous drug users (primarily heroin) and the spread of HIV. Sharing a needle is an extremely efficient mechanism for the spread of blood borne viruses.
The awareness that the rate of HIV infection presented a dire problem for public health led to Baroness Thatcher's government doing something markedly progressive. Her background as a scientist is often reduced to the apocryphal story of her inventing Mr Whippy ice cream, yet far more importantly she clearly understood the value scientific evidence presented to her in government and how to evaluate it. It is well known that she was prepared to push through politically difficult policy choices once convinced they embodied the right way forward for the country.
The evidence at the time triggered what appeared to be a series of radical interventions - hard hitting public health information campaigns, needle exchanges and prescription methadone. Nearly thirty years later these interventions are still not without controversy. In order to function effectively needle exchanges require the police to agree not to seek to prosecute those using them. Used syringes returned for exchange contain traces of drugs, technically placing those in possession of them in breach of the Misuse of Drugs Act. These legal issues are the same as would be faced by the planned drug consumption room in Brighton much talked about in the media last week.
In 1988 the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) recommended:
'The spread of HIV is a greater danger to individual and public health than drug misuse …accordingly, services that aim to minimize HIV risk behaviour by all available means should take precedence in development plans.'
This report was seen by many as pivotal in informing the Thatcher government’s take on the issue and was followed by the rapid expansion to access to methadone, requiring significant public expenditure. Sir Norman Fowler, Thathcher's Secretary of State for Health in 1986, to the day retains a strong interest in public health and is rightly proud of the steps taken during his tenure. The evidence showed and still shows access to methadone saves the public purse money over the long term - this understanding carried through into the Major government but is sadly lacking in the coalition.
Currently the use of methadone prescribing has been under sustained attack, not from peer reviewed scientific literature but in the form of personal history, anecdote and 'reports' of the most spurious kind. Individuals who have found methadone to be a hindrance to their own personal journey away from drug dependency and advocate abstinence based treatment have wielded a disproportionate influence on current government policy. An individual’s story is of course valid but cannot be considered a basis for informing a national public health policy.
The most ardent advocates of this approach admit that abstinence based treatment has around a 30% success rate and isn't cheap. Even the Centre for Policy Studies produced a report attacking the prescribing of methadone that didn't bear the slightest level of scrutiny let alone peer review. Baroness Thatcher understood peer review should be at the heart of evaluating evidence, especially when assessing a subject so beset by hysteria.
Last week Andrew Lansley MP claimed that the UN conventions, the Misuse of Drugs Act and the evidence on the efficacy of such a step stood in the way of the opening the Brighton facility. He was erroneous on all three counts. I doubt Baroness Thatcher would have had much time for such a response to an uncomfortable policy development if the evidence showed clearly the cost effective and positive impact that it could have. Andrew Lansley’s stance has more in common with Gordon Brown’s supine posture towards the Daily Mail’s unhealthy interest in a drug policy built on anecdote than the political bravery of Margret Thatcher.
The guest blog is published every Friday and views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.
Caroline Julian is a Senior Researcher and Project Manager at the independent think tank, ResPublica, and editor of 'Making it Mutual: The ownership revolution that Britain needs'.
Amongst the critique, commentators have given a cautious welcome to the Chancellor’s plans to support a ‘property-owning democracy’. With home ownership for the 25-34 age group down by a third in the last ten years, measures set to encourage construction and attainable mortgages for first time buyers have been endorsed by some.
But whilst promoting individual ownership plays a crucial role in delivering assets and market-entry to many across the country, there is a much bigger crisis at hand: a crisis of market concentration and increased homogeneity within both private and public sectors, which has in turn seen a crisis of trust, competitiveness, productivity and accountability in recent years. The standardisation of the‘plc’ and the development of the ‘one size fits all’ model of public services have in part contributed to the creation of monopolies in the private and public sectors respectively. With many businesses owned by shareholders and public services by the state, little is left for communities whom such markets should benefit.
Means of delivering asset ownership to individuals are commendable, but not enough. To deliver real benefits to our society and the economy, a whole new ownership revolution is needed – one that engages not just with individuals, but employees, citizens and wider communities, and one that draws on principles of plurality, mutuality and ‘shared ownership’ for both public and private markets.
ResPublica’s recent essay collection sets out to make this case. Making it Mutual: The ownership revolution that Britain needs convenes leading commentators and practitioners to highlight the benefits of the mutual, co-operative and employee-owned models, and to set out their own policy innovations for community and shared ownership.
As indicated by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude MP, the present Government has thoroughly embraced the importance of such models and of participation, mutuality and co-operation more broadly within and across the services accountable to the public purse. The mutual model has been adopted by the Cabinet Office as crucial to public service reform, and has engendered much-needed debate regarding the fundamental nature and role of the State. Professor Julian Le Grand, Chair of the Government’s Mutuals Taskforce, highlights within his essay the transformative impact that public service mutuals can achieve.
Within the business and community sectors, we have witnessed unprecedented interest in the employee-owned model, primarily advocated by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and the Ministerial teams at the department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Graeme Nuttall, the Government's Independent Adviser on Employee Ownership, promotes the incontestable case for the economic benefits of employee ownership in terms of productivity, innovation and the wellbeing of the workforce. Employee-owned businesses now contribute £30bn to UK GDP each year – a much needed contribution in tough economic times. The announcements made in the Budget to introduce new capital gains tax relief for companies sold into employee ownership, and tax incentives for businesses that transition into employee ownership, are a good start, but much more can be done.
Amongst the Shadow Ministers too, the importance of mutuality, trust and transparency in banking and energy market reform has gained great momentum. There is an appetite to restore faith in the long-term social and economic value generated through such engagement, beyond the short-term pursuit of ‘shareholder value’ which has come to characterise the plc model.
Diverse and devolved ownership, power and capital, alongside user, consumer and employee participation in governance and decision-making, are principles that we can all agree with. Unlike any other policy agenda, mutual, employee-owned and co-operative models, and their underpinning ideals, have attracted cross-party support and have been promoted as foundational players to our public institutions, private services and businesses, not just in this Government’s lifetime, but the ones that have preceded it also.
Although not a silver bullet for all of our economic and societal problems, mutual and employee-owned models can be capable of transforming the foundation of such markets from what has often been a consumerist, individualist and self-interested enterprise, to one where communities, employees and users can take control and shape such markets for themselves. Beyond proposals for individual ownership alone, mutual models should be mainstreamed to incur the ownership revolution that this country needs.
The guest blog is published every Friday and views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.
By Paul Abbott. Follow Paul on Twitter.
Last week, I flew in to Erbil in northern Iraq, on a trip with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan. Erbil is a small city, of 1.3 million people, near to the Iranian, Turkish, and Syrian borders. It is moderate, with women in positions of power; tolerance of Christians and Jews; alcohol on sale; and respect for property rights. It is also the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth.
Before I travelled, I had three assumptions about Iraq:
1. that it was a desert wasteland, without rain;
2. that it was inhabited only by terrorists, military contractors, and oil-sheiks;
3. that ordinary working Iraqis would hate British imperialist infidels, like me.
Of course, I was wrong. It's not the first time I've been wrong. But in this case I was really spectacularly, breathtakingly mistaken. There are grounds for optimism, in the Kurdish provinces in the north of Iraq. Their national GDP grew over 10% last year, for example. Contrast this with the crushing slow-down in the decades under Saddam Hussein. Despite all its oil and mineral wealth, Iraqi GDP grew by just 2% in the entire decade of the 1980s, and when sanctions kicked in in the 1990s, Iraqi GDP shrank by 47%.
That is now changing, and fast. In the last year alone, the Iraqi growth rate has outperformed most of the OECD and the Western world. Not just in oil. A healthy services sector now accounts for a third of Iraq’s recovering economy, and agriculture accounts for one tenth. Since the Allies toppled Saddam Hussein, Iraqi GDP has rocketed by some 317% overall.
But, the APPG was not there to discuss economics, however encouraging the signs may be. We were travelling to a commemorate the horrific genocide in Iraq. 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s scientific massacre of the Kurds.
The story is depressingly familiar, and a parallel of other 20th century regimes with an over-mighty state: Stalinist Russia; Nazi Germany; Communist Cambodia; Communist Laos; Marxist Ethiopia... The list of regimes that have tried to exterminate part of their own people is not endless, but it is very long.
In Iraq, Saddam Hussein deliberately murdered 182,000 Kurdish people, in a systematic slaughter. Not because they had done something right or wrong. But simply because they were Kurdish. In his campaign, Saddam’s troops flattened 5,000 villages and forcibly moved the Kurdish people into new settlements, which the Ba'arthist Party called “victory cities”. These were concentration camps by another name. Millions were pushed into exile as refugees. Rape and brutal torture were used as weapons of war. Kurdish men were driven into the desert in trucks, shot in the head, and slung into mass graves. Civilian areas were repeatedly bombed with mustard gas and nerve gas.
Through the mid 1980s, the response of the free world was pathetic: almost a total silence and denial of the atrocities that were taking place. Hence the Kurdish saying, that the Zagros mountains are their only friends.
But, say what you like about the first and second Gulf Wars, they stopped this genocide in its tracks. Slowly, the world is waking up to what occurred. The UK Parliament has only in the last few weeks - thanks to the efforts of MPs like Robert Halfon, Nadhim Zahawi, and Dave Anderson, voted unanimously to formally recognise the suffering inflicted on Iraqi Kurds as a “genocide”. This is important as a mark of respect, but also because it builds the case for reparations. The Regional Kurdish Government are now asking - with some justification - who profited from the genocide? Which chemical and arms companies? Which Governments? Who took the blood money?
Inevitably, tensions have grown between the more moderate Kurdish north of Iraq, and the Arab-majority in Baghdad and the south. The USA are selling F16 fighterjets to Baghdad, for example, and after Saddam, that makes the Kurds understandably jumpy.
One survivor of a chemical weapons attack described his memories to us:
“We fought back against Saddam. But when the nerve gas and the mustard gas came, what could we do? You cannot fight that enemy. It is death you cannot see or touch. Only smell. I will never forget that smell. Our livestock perished. Even the birds dropped dead from the sky. My son died with blue lips, from the cyanide in the air. Then bulldozers came. My wife and our other children were arrested, and caged in the desert. Our whole nation was a prison camp. Arabs shot the Kurdish men and boys. When they fired, it hailed bullets. They missed me and I pretended to be dead, lying motionless among the corpses. I didn't move for hours, until a truck started to unload heavy stones and earth over the bodies. So I leapt out of the trench and ran into the dark. At that time I had not eaten for three days.”
The story is painfully relevant, because just a few miles north of Erbil there are two million Syrian Kurds over the border, facing an uncertain future, cut off from help or aid. In recent months, Syrian Kurds have been persecuted, raped, had their property taken, their homes flattened. Thousands have lost their lives. Arguably, Al-Assad is exterminating his own people, just as Saddam tried to do in the 1980s.
In the last few days, William Hague has suggested that Britain might defy the Syria arms ban, and ship weapons to the rebels. Good for Mr Hague. He deserves our full-throated support. Iraqi Kurdistan is a beacon. Her capital Erbil is - quite literally - a city on a hill. It proves that the Middle East can be moderate; democratic; prosperous; and free, if only we help people to fight back against dictators. The Iraq war was a war. It had many failures and disappointments. But Britain should be proud of its role in averting genocide. We should do so wherever we can, whenever we can.
Photo Credit: Safeen Ahmed.
Sophia Parker in an Associate at the Resolution Foundation, having previously been the Director of Policy and Research. She is the Editor of 'The Squeezed Middle', the product of a 2010/11 fellowship at Harvard's Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.
Follow Sophia on Twitter.
Today sees the launch of 'The Squeezed Middle: the pressure on ordinary workers in America and Britain' - a collection of essays from America’s leading thinkers in the field of living standards to understand what lessons, if any, we might draw from the US experience.
You may well wonder what we can take from a country where the crisis in living standards is so great that it’s not an exaggeration to talk of America’s ‘lost generation’. Productivity has risen threefold since 1970 but barely a dollar from this buoyant economy has made its way into the average person’s pay packet. Even the recent return to moderate growth in the US has not eased the challenges most families are facing.
The US is an outlier in the sense that the historic link between pay and productivity was brutally severed forty years ago - thankfully the UK does not exactly mirror this glum picture.
However Resolution Foundation analysis highlights a deeply worrying development: since the early 2000s, wages and household income have flatlined for British low and middle income families, and since the recession they have in fact declined. This suggests that despite important differences, at a fundamental level the US and the UK share a problem: while our nations have got richer, low and middle income households have suffered a stagnation and even decline in living standards.
There are other alarm bells that should be ringing too: as in the US, we have seen inequality rise sharply in recent years. Living costs continue to rise faster than inflation, significantly reducing the spending power of low and middle income households. Furthermore, from tax credits to worker rights, many of the policies that have historically protected Britain from looking more like the US are either under threat or being watered down.
But let’s not start wringing our hands just yet. While acknowledging the impact of globalization, technological change and immigration, the contributors to the book are compelling on the crucial role of policy and politics in shaping economic realities.
They underline the most important lesson that we can take from the US experience: decline and stagnation of the scale seen in the US is not inevitable. We do in fact have a choice as to whether we want to reverse the declining living standards of low and middle income households. Policy decisions and political priorities can augment or mitigate economic trends, and determine who gains most from any future growth we might enjoy.
So the question now is whether any of the major parties are able to find a language and set of policy priorities that make living standards an organizing political idea. There are some welcome signs that the new generation of Conservatives recognize the significance of the issues. But there aren’t many quick wins here. Reflecting on the American experience, the book’s contributors set out a challenging set of issues where action is needed, including:
* A focus on who benefits from growth, as well as on achieving growth in the first place.
* A focus on improving market wages, as well as on ensuring taxes and transfers are actively supporting working families.
* A focus on broadening employment and in-work supports such as childcare, as well as on the quality of jobs.
President Obama declared that a chart showing the declining living standards of America’s middle class was his ‘North Star’ in his re-election campaign last year. Will any political leader here do the same? If not, then we risk treading the path that the US has already gone down – with disastrous consequences for the third of our working age population who live in low and middle income households.
Laura Sandys is the Member of Parliament for South Thanet and PPS to the Minister for Climate Change.
Follow Laura on Twitter.
Europe is an issue that seems to reverse all stereotypes within the Conservative Party. It turns the tough into the defeated, while making the most robust of patriots appear terribly uncertain and nervous in the face of competing nations. Contrary to Tory myths the Euro-realists are actually the toughies, not intimidated by different languages and negotiating techniques, but are out there happy to fight for Britain’s role at the heart of the debate about the future of Europe.
The problem for the Conservative Party is that recently the Europe debate has been framed around some very un-Conservative views. We should always be realists, and the fundamentally realistic position is that whether we like it or not we are geographically part of this diverse continent called Europe. We need to accept that fact and that means whatever happens in Europe, good or bad, impacts us, whatever our relationship. Europe is US not THEM in terms of institutions, risks and opportunities.
So if Europe is US not THEM then I find it difficult to reconcile with some Euro-sceptic or ‘UK versus EU’ negotiators, who argue that the ‘bad’ relationship that we are forced to endure with our dastardly European partners can be substituted for harmonious polygamous alliances with every other country – as long as they are not European! If you are the real ruthless self-interested hotshot then you play with all the membership organisations that you are lucky enough to be part of and make everyone feel that you are committed to their game. You certainly do not try and frame yourself as the ‘Odd Man Out’ – that is a tactic that is guaranteed to fail.
Relationships are really difficult on a one to one basis – never mind with 27 partners. No one should think that it is easy to achieve what you want in this multi-dimensional game of chess. Yet despite this we have to play to Britain’s strength internationally. We have a great and substantiated reputation as an influential player, talking a lead in shaping international organisations – and that includes Europe too. Let’s not forget that the UK led the way on the Single Market, a model that other organisations around the world have since attempted to replicate – from ASEAN through to ECOWAS.
We must not delude ourselves either that other organisations do not come with serious responsibilities. We herald NATO as the perfect organisation, but it would be interesting to explain to constituents that our obligations include sending our young soldiers to the Turkish border to defend that nation. So let’s not be romantic and remember that all our other valued international ‘relationships’ come with commitments or difficult obligations.
Europe is much more of an opportunity than a risk and it is important as an institution to protect our businesses. Whether it be fighting for product standards in Europe that reflect our high standards in quality and safety or addressing international migration, economic trade and wider European security, Britain has both a voice and a vision.
We therefore have to ask ourselves “What have the Europeans ever done for us?” (remembering that we are one of them). We are a member of one of the most highly sort out clubs in the world – with an aggregated economy bigger than America’s or China’s. It is not bad for our British businesses that we can access a consumer market of 500 million, that our products and services can move effortlessly across all these markets and that British people can move, work and live with few barriers in any EU country.
So Conservatives now have to ask what we might do for Europe. We need to take our head out of discussing the internal workings of EU institutions and start developing a new ambitious vision for Europe. This vision must address the lack of competitiveness, extend and expand our trading horizons and build a strong regional body that can influence a world that is going to be more and more ruthless in the future.
I know that other members of the European Mainstream group, that was recently formed to articulate a positive Conservative attitude to Europe, are pleased that the Conservative Party leadership know how much can be gained from a strong, robust, but collegiate, voice in Europe. And so far we have not done at all badly with the Prime Minister achieving the first EVER reduction in the EU Budget.
Within the Party our biggest challenge is to persuade others that, contrary to perceived wisdom, Britain is not a downtrodden country in Europe, but a leading reformer whose voice and interests are frequently dominant. We need have no identity crisis about our membership of Europe or feel that we are in any way diminished by sitting at the top table of the largest trading bloc in the world. We just have a lot of work ahead to help shape a new and ambitious Europe as much for our national interest as for the rest of our European partners.
This was the edited version of the speech Laura, convener of the European Mainstream Group, recently made at the Oxford Union.
Max Wind-Cowie runs the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos, which identifies conservative values and policies that have progressive ends.
Follow Max on Twitter: @MaxWindCowie
We must be sceptical of claims that Eastleigh was fought and won solely on local issues. Of course the LibDems focused on the micro - their macro narrative leaves plenty to be desired at the moment and Rennard’s street-fighter playbook serves them well at by-elections. But that relentlessly local focus doesn’t adequately explain our loss to the LibDems and it gives us no insight whatsoever into our defeat at Diane James’ hands. No-one ever votes for UKIP on local issues.
Instead we have to remember that while folk care about what’s on their doorstep, they also decide who’s best placed to fix things on the basis of an impression of a party overall. So long as we had no Councillors in Eastleigh it was going to be difficult for us to convince voters of our effectiveness through direct experience – we needed a national story that spoke to them of our competence and our capability. Truth be told, we lack that. We are seen by many, including those who might be naturally sympathetic to our cause, as incompetent, aloof and naïve about the realities of people’s lives. It’s this impression that is steadily eroding our lead even on the economy.
Much as many a moderniser might approve of gay marriage we cannot pretend that, in an age of falling living standards, rising costs and hopeless economic news, it was good politics to prioritise it. Much as voters might not yet blame us completely for rising debt, falling incomes and the loss of our triple-A rating, it is clear that we are not winning their affection with an economic strategy that can come across shambolic and whose architects often appear unwilling to stand up for it in public. Distracting folk with a series of apparently unconnected gimmicks (aimed at ‘detoxifying’ our party in the eyes of people who may hate us a little less but will never like us enough to vote for us) probably doesn’t do us direct damage on a case-by-case basis, but it adds to an impression of that we lack seriousness.
And if we are not seen as serious then what are voters in places like Eastleigh left with? A choice between the party that may be unlovable but which has put in the work locally and a party that is able to promise patriotic renewal to voters tired of bad news and national uncertainty. The LibDems survived because we didn’t offer a convincing and capable alternative for the kind of local advocacy that, whilst unexciting, is at least useful. UKIP did well because they offered the tantalising prospect of real, energetic and purposeful change. We did badly because we were unable to offer either – and we were weighed down by the baggage of a sneaking suspicion that politics is little more than a game to us.
The Conservative Party desperately needs to do two things. First, get a grip on the messages. We have serious successes to talk about – Theresa May is bringing down immigration, Michael Gove is giving people proper schools, IDS is getting a grip on welfare. Too often these achievements get lost in a blizzard of new initiatives that make it only so far as the next day’s chip paper. This has to stop. Second, we must work harder to shape what we have into a convincing and holistic national narrative – one of renewal and of a state that is more aligned to the moral intuitions of the public, not simply cut back to save us a couple of quid here and there.
Doing more with less was our promise on the public finances in 2010. Now it should be our mantra on messaging. Let’s hammer home the achievements we have to our name, give the gimmicks a rest and fashion our efforts into a more singular story – one that places competence and closeness to voters’ instincts above clever political tricks and second-rate triangulation. That way a chance of victory lies.
Kate Maltby is a doctoral student researching the philosophy of Elizabeth I, and was from 2010 – 12 the theatre critic for The Spectator’s Arts Blog. She has also written on politics and culture for The Spectator’s Coffee House, Standpoint, The Times, The Times Literary Supplement, The Financial Times and The Huffington Post.
Follow Kate on Twitter: @KateMaltby
A few days before the Eastleigh by-election, I ran into a prominent Tory backbencher. What did he think of Maria Hutchings?, I asked. Was it not awkward that, within a month of David Cameron’s ultra-modern crusade to legislate for gay marriage as Tory initiative, he found himself backing a candidate whose attitude towards individual freedom is such that she not only opposes this extension of marriage rights, but would like to restrict abortion to a stage at which many pregnancies have not even been detected, and thinks that the economic effects of immigration can be summed up as ‘reducing the pot for the rest of us’. Didn’t he accept, at least, Steve Richard’s claim that such ideological chaos proved that Cameron had lost control of the party?
‘Not at all,’ my parliamentary friend replied. ‘With any luck, the voters will think she’s with UKIP. And then we might actually have a chance of winning the d—n thing’.
As we now know, poor Maria had no such luck. And ape UKIP she did – even to the point of leafleting the saturated voters with her name emblazoned against the UKIP colours of purple and yellow, under the dubious banner ‘local UKIP MP backs Maria’. True, she was kept pretty quiet by her minders after her disastrous attempt to explain her (perfectly reasonable) decision to opt for private education. But her message had already got through to the voters of Eastleigh: as many canvassers have reported, Hutchings’ reactionary brand of conservatism was her best-known quality on the doorstep.
Certainly, the spectre of social conservatism was not the only problem with the Conservative campaign in Eastleigh. As Matthew d’Ancona has pointed out, ‘the localisation of political combat is sharper than ever.’ The party of Huhne, Hancock and Lord Rennard may currently come across as a League of Extraordinarily Un-Gentlemanly Gentlemen, but they do know how to run a local campaign for local people.
It is not just the famous gravel pit in Hamble-Le-Rice. The allegedley Tory-backed development of a golf-course has been just as controversial, allowing local Lib Dems to leaflet with this old image of the remote Tory toff. In a time of mass disillusionment with politicians, councillor Mike Thornton successfully presented himself in Lib Dem leaflets as a grown-up administrator who had honed his skills on local issues. His campaign website still hosts four revolving banners: an attack on the gravel pit; an attack on the golf course development; a call for a new bypass at Botley and a defence of Liberal Democrat tax policy. That’s three local issues, and one national issue of bread and butter economics. They won Thornton the seat.
It will be hard going for the Tories to scrap with Lib Dems on local issues in forty different seats come the 2015 election. To hedge against their national obscurity, Liberal Democrat MPs have long invested in building highly personal, local followings in their core constituencies. And as Rupert Myers reveals in The Spectator, Eastleigh exposed deplorable inefficiencies in the Tory ground game. The accuracy of data was so poor, claims Myers, that ‘we called quite a few dead people’. No doubt that was just the thing to persuade the grieving relatives to vote Tory.
Hope may lie on the horizon. Today’s Sunday Times talks up the market value of METIS, a new database of voter information. But those who have looked closely at the failings of the Romney campaign should be more wary of anyone claiming to sell technology as silver bullet. Romney’s disastrous ORCA database did as much to damage to his electoral prospects as any debate flip-flop. The system required local tellers to input their latest turn-out information, but then wait to hear a data analysis from headquarters in Boston. Experienced local campaigners were left waiting in polling stations, banned from driving to get in the vote until they had been given Boston’s instructions. And they waited. And they waited. Because, on election day, and election day only, the entire ORCA system crashed.
The lesson of ORCA is not that technology always fails, but that it is no substitute for local knowledge. The Tories have plenty of work to do if they are to develop a local network to challenge Lib Dem or even soft-Left majorities in 2015. But challenge on the centre they must. Because much as the Tory backbench may try, it is simply impossible to outflank UKIP on the reactionary Right. Can they really out-crazy a party who bring the Hamiltons to canvass? Maybe CCHQ can encourage a defection from MEP Godfrey Bloom, whose primary quarrel with modernity is that women have forgotten how to clean a fridge, although he’s also eager to explain that ‘no businessman with a brain’ should employ those with functioning wombs. Of course, to really match UKIP, Tory HQ would have to bring in the party leader to back up ‘dear old Godders’.
Maria Hutchings may have looked like UKIP, swum like UKIP and quacked like UKIP, but short of actually sticking a UKIP rosette on her jacket, she still could not pick up the core UKIP vote. Meanwhile, the Tory rosette she did wear wiped out any chance of picking up the mid-term protest vote, which if posters like this are anything to go by, formed the core of UKIP’s swing. More seriously, her reactionary views lost her any chance of undercutting the Liberal Democrat vote – and the Liberal Democrats, in case you had forgotten in all the UKIP madness, actually won the seat.
Fortunately, the Tory Party, unlike UKIP, is only mad North-North West. If it sticks with a modernizing wind, it might yet be able to tell a hawk from a handsaw.
Phil Bloomer is the Director of the Campaigns and Policy Division for Oxfam GB.
Follow Phil on Twitter: @pbloomer
It was great to attend the Parliamentary Launch of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign at Speaker’s House a couple of weeks ago on 23 January. We saw a real cross-party commitment to tackle issues around hunger, with a video message from the Prime Minister David Cameron joining high profile political speakers such as the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Developing Secretary Justine Greening, Opposition Leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander. The messages conveyed by all political speakers highlighted that food and hunger are vital issues to tackle and international development is not just about aid, but also about tackling the structures that makes hunger so endemic. They also spoke of the importance of hunger and extreme poverty to our national security, to new markets, and trade in drugs and weapons: desperate people can take desperate measures.
The launch in Parliament was not just focused on the Reception. We also held a Policy Fair in Parliament for people to learn more about the policy areas and a Faith Breakfast to discuss the campaign, both of which were well attended. MPs and Peers secured a debate in the House of Lords, a Westminster Hall debate and two PMQs that happened on the day of the launch.
What is the IF campaign? Nearly one billion people go to bed hungry every night and two million children die from malnutrition every year. In today’s day in age, this is not a statistic that we can let continue. That is why we, as the IF campaign, believe that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone IF we tackle four key policy areas. So there is enough food for everyone:
* IF we meet our aid commitments to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families to feed themselves.
* IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land and grow crops to feed people, not fuel cars.
* IF governments and big companies are honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food.
* IF governments stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries.
The IF campaign is a coalition of over 100 UK-based organisations. We have huge ambitions to reach 20 million people across the UK with our message, and to inspire 5 million of them to get involved. Why now? 2013 is a big year for international development in the UK. In 2013, the UK is set to reach the 30 year promise of spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid. The Prime Minister currently sits on the UN High Level Panel looking to set the framework for the next set of development goals. In addition, for the first time since 2005 in Gleneagles, the UK holds the G8 Presidency, with the summit taking place at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister has already announced that he will hold a Food and Hunger Summit in London a few days before the G8 Summit, which will follow up from his Olympic Hunger Event last summer.
Now that the launch is over, we are focusing on the Budget Statement for 2013, which will be announced by Chancellor George Osborne on Wednesday 20 March 2013. The Budget will be the occasion when we can congratulate the UK for reaching the 0.7 aid spending commitment, showing that we stand by our promises and care about the fate of the most valuable on our planet. Spending 0.7% of GNI was in all three major political parties’ election manifestos and the Budget is a great moment for people across the political divide to celebrate it. But we are also pushing the Government to act on the issue of tax dodging in developing countries, which is causing countries to lose out on vast amount of revenues that they are due and that are key for their long-term development. We are asking for UK companies to share information about their tax affairs in developing countries to ensure greater transparency and help poor countries to mobilise their own revenue. We need to see much of these funds invested in agriculture and food security.
IF we mobilise together, we can make sure that 2013 is the year that we tackle food and hunger. Sign up today and join over 45,000 people in supporting the IF campaign.
Dr. Robin Niblett is the Director of Chatham House.
It was a lengthy and complete speech when it came. David Cameron sought to encapsulate for continental Europeans Britain's psychology (or neurosis) about Europe as well as his principles for a reformed EU which, if met, would serve British interests and be deserving of continued UK membership. But he has also opened a period of unprecedented uncertainty about Britain's future relationship with the European Union. The negative impacts to UK national interests may outweigh the putative domestic political gains that his approach is meant to deliver.
Cameron made a strong case for a Europe that would focus on some of the real obstacles to future European competitiveness, such as further opening the Single Market in services, energy and technology. Efforts to overcome these obstacles have often been blocked by many of the countries that would have benefited the most.
He was right to warn about the loss of popular legitimacy that has accompanied the ever deepening process of European integration and to point to the need to engage national parliaments more actively in the EU process.
And he was correct to note that the response by eurozone members to the continuing crisis that has been exacerbated by an incomplete single currency will require new forms of integration that could spill over into the Single Market and affect the interests of the UK and other countries that intend to remain outside. The UK will need some safeguards about the sanctity of the Single Market.
Cameron also made a strong case at the end of his speech for the benefits that accompany UK membership of the EU and the risks to the UK's economic prosperity and international influence that it would face should it choose to leave.
There are many on the European continent who would share his analysis, especially on the first two items and the last. The problems for David Cameron and the UK do not lie in his analysis, but in three dimensions.
First, while the essence of some of his proposed reforms will not be shocking to his EU partners, the philosophy behind them is. The UK, says David Cameron, believes 'the essential foundation of the EU is the Single Market.' There is no appreciation that popular and political consent for the Single Market on the continent of Europe (and among a large segment of the non-Conservative voting British public) rests upon many of the rules that make that market fair as well as efficient. Hence, while there might be flexibility concerning UK demands for the repatriation (or reform) of some current EU powers over common fisheries or regional spending, the same is highly unlikely over the totemic (for many Conservatives) issue of labour laws.
Second, David Cameron has built his case for a new European settlement upon the assumption that there will need to be treaty changes to address the new powers he expects eurozone integration to require. But what if eurozone and other EU member states decide to avoid the route of treaty change and thus deprive Cameron of the forum in which to negotiate his new settlement? There is some doubt that Germany might really want a treaty outcome, as it could entrench the sort of transfer union against which many of its citizens are entirely opposed. Even if the treaty route is taken, a revised treaty may not be ready in 2017, the date by which he has committed to hold the referendum.
Third, and perhaps most seriously, the UK will lose further influence in decision-making circles in the EU during the upcoming process of internal review and external negotiation over a new settlement. Businesses thinking about investing in the UK may be pragmatic, at least for now, about the cost-risk benefits of whether or not to withhold future investment into the UK. The same cannot be said about EU policy-makers. Why should UK arguments in favour of opening up the services or energy market, expanding trade agreements or sustaining commitments to policies mitigating climate change over the coming years, carry weight with other EU governments if the UK has stated that its membership of the EU is currently conditional?
All in all, the numerous questions that David Cameron raised at the end of his speech about the risks of a UK withdrawal from the EU makes one wonder how a prime minister who prides himself on pursuing the British national interest has ended up potentially gambling those benefits away in an unpredictable EU negotiation and UK referendum process. Polling of the British people in the last two months – after a pro-EU fight back by British business and political figures – has shown a significant swing in favour of remaining inside the EU. These numbers could reverse themselves. But even if David Cameron is successful at some level with his planned EU settlement, will the process of arriving at it really mark the end of British ambivalence about its relationship with Europe?
Blog published courtesy of Chatham House Expert Comment.
Action for Global Health (AfGH) is a broad European network of NGOs advocating for Europe to play a more proactive role in enabling developing countries to meet the Right to health for all and the Health Millennium Development Goals.
The UK Parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC) has today published a report on the debate about the development framework to follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. The report wraps up the IDC’s ‘enquiry’ on the post-MDGs during which they heard from VIPs like Amina Mohammed, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on Post-2015, as well as a range of academics and civil society actors, including written evidence submitted by the AfGH UK network.
The report is a departure from the usual work of the IDC holding the Government to account on their development work. Here they are informing and shaping the future agenda. There is much to welcome in the report. Critically for AfGH, the IDC has put its weight behind the potential of Universal Health Coverage as an important way to capture different health needs and interests in the next development framework. It notes that this needs to be done in such a way that the current MDG emphasis on maternal and child health is not lost and elsewhere that the vital unfinished business of the MDGs, which includes all of the health targets, is not forgotten.
AfGH’s own position on the post-2015 framework is that it needs to recognise health as a right in and of itself as well as key to equity and sustainable development, and that ill-health is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. To deliver on improved health outcomes for all the next global development framework needs to: promote and be accountable for ensuring improved health outcomes for all, including the poorest and most marginalised communities; commit to the provision of universal coverage and access to high quality health care services; include the unfinished business of the MDGs; and, tackle the social determinants of health that are mostly responsible for inequity.
Other highlights of the IDC’s report include a focus on equity, learning from the MDGs experience with aggregate targets and how this served to exacerbate and mask inequalities. It is a prompt that UK Prime Minister David Cameron needs to better define what is meant by ‘the golden thread’, a current favourite term that seems to be a catch-phrase for many different aspects of the Government’s development agenda. Recognition of the need to advance the rights of women, with specific mention of gender inequity related to health, is also welcomed.
However, we wouldn’t be playing our civil society watchdog role if we did not find some key items to critique. The report does not make specific mention of a rights-based approach to development and how the next framework needs to be grounded strongly in human rights. It recognises the importance of including the voices of the poor in consultations but should include a broader understanding of vulnerability that goes beyond poverty. The report talks about all global actors having a role to play in a development partnership but is vague on how to provide coherence between development objectives and other key policy areas such as trade and taxation.
One key area of the report is the focus that the work of the High-Level Panel on the Post-MDGs should be transparent and that consultation processes should be inclusive and seek to capture a range of voices.
AfGH UK will be keeping an eye on the recommendations in the IDC’s report and how they’re taken on board by the Prime Minister as well as the rest of the Government. We are, however, pleased to see UK Parliamentarians taking an important role in informing and questioning what has been happening around the post-2015 agenda and we hope to continue to work with them on this.
Follow Benoît on Twitter: @benoitgomis
The drugs problem is complex. There is no magic solution, but it is clear that the current status quo requires a serious rethink based on ‘the best evidence we can generate’, as highlighted by the final report of the UK Drug Policy Commission, A Fresh Approach to Drugs. This translates to a more robust impact assessment as to what works and does not work, and whether change can be linked back to policies. Closer relations between governmental organizations, universities and policy institutes would be a useful step forward in order to come up with sensible and non-politically sensitive measures to improve the current situation.
There are a number of areas that can be improved. Firstly, there is too much policy emphasis on the consumption of illicit drugs at the expense of other legal psychoactive substances (including tobacco, alcohol, over-the-counter medicine, prescription medicine and 'legal highs'). Any policy should address the broader social context in which consumption of any kind of drug develops and strive to tackle the personal, societal, economic and institutional factors associated with it.
However, and this is the second key point, the problem with drugs is not just about consumption, despite much of the media focus on drug users especially following the recent legalization votes in Colorado and Washington. Crucially, more policy emphasis on the harms created at various stages of production and trafficking would help inform public judgment on this issue that affects a huge number of people across the world. It is essential to highlight the differences in the severity of harms along the drug supply chain, from the 60,000 drug-related killings over the past six years in Mexico to secondary effects of marijuana usage.
Drugs are a globally interconnected policy challenge. When David Cameron rejected calls for a drug policy review from the Home Affairs Select Committee last month (Drugs: Breaking the Cycle), his arguments only focused on the situation in the UK ('We have a policy which actually is working in Britain'). Drugs on the streets of London may be the product of violence in Latin America, via West Africa, through Europe, or from Afghanistan, through Central Asia and the Balkans. The drugs business creates negative consequences all along the drug supply chain. The failings of current domestic drug policies have negative implications for social justice across the world. As one example, 33 countries sanction drug offences with the death penalty - over 540 people were executed for drugs offences in Iran alone in 2011.
This demonstrates that drugs are an international security issue, something Chatham House has aimed to emphasise through its Drugs and Organized Crime project. The project was established over a year ago with the aim of providing a politically neutral and multidisciplinary approach to some of the policy challenges surrounding drugs and organized crime. Through the development of a broad and varied network of senior individuals and organizations, the project has sought to highlight the importance of a comprehensive approach that highlights the local, regional and international dimensions of the topic and how they relate to one another for government strategies. In so doing, the project explores the overlap and significance of areas including public health, education, law enforcement and civil society efforts in informing more effective approaches to drugs policy.
If you are interested in contributing please contact