What would UK aid look like under Jeremy Corbyn?

By Molly Anders 16 October 2015

Jeremy Corbyn, newly elected Labour Party leader. Photo by: lewishamdreamer / CC BY-NC

The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development would look very different, if newly elected Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn emerges victorious at the next U.K. General Election, a key member of his shadow cabinet has told Devex.

A Labour-led DfID would rely less on contractors, focus on long-term outputs and put more resources toward accountability and transparency.

“International development for [Prime Minister] David Cameron is mere window dressing,” MP Diane Abbott, shadow secretary of state for international development told party members gathered in Brighton, for the annual Labour Party Conference.

Corbyn, a veteran left-leaning member of the Parliament, won the Labour leadership contest on Sept. 14, with a stunning first-round victory that was aided by a strong show of support from the trade union movement.

“Our party has a long and proud tradition of promoting equality and alleviating poverty worldwide,” Abbott told Devex. “Lest we forget it was Labour that wrote off international debt; it was Labour that tripled aid; it was Labour that forced the Tories’ hand and ensured [it] committed 0.7 percent of our gross national income to overseas aid. This is the record we would like to build on and exemplify.”

Abbott spoke to Devex about what she would change at DfID should Labour — under Corbyn — be elected at the next U.K. General Election in May 2020.

“It appears [DfID] try to get aid out of the door as quickly as possible,” she said. “The use of private contractors is one clear example of this culture. These agencies are not held to the same levels of accountability as NGOs, and so although aid funds are being spent we cannot guarantee that it is being done in an effective and sustainable way,” she said.

“This is why one of the areas I would like to focus on in my position is accountability and transparency,” Abbott added.

Other areas Abbott confirmed she will focus on in the near-term include “a women-centered development policy agenda, and the refugee and migrant crisis,” as well as resolving what she sees as “far too much top-slicing of the aid budget.”

A formidable shadow team

The role of shadow secretary of state serves as a foil to the acting secretary of state, scrutinizing policy decisions and outlining alternative courses of action.

Mary Creagh MP, a former shadow secretary of state for international development and key ally to former Labour leader Ed Miliband, took to Twitter following Corbyn’s leadership win to tell followers she had “decided to return to the back benches.” She echoed many of Abbott’s concerns: under Conservative Party leadership, she said, DfID “should be doing more in conflict and fragile states,” adding that it has been focussing “too heavily on short-term outputs” and “neglecting the long-term processes of peace building and nation building.”

via Twitter

“I expect [Abbott] to be a constructive critic of the government on development matters,” pointing to the continuity between her time in the role before Abbott took the reins. “Her junior minister, Mike Kane, is my former [Parliamentary private secretary], and I know he and Diane will make a formidable shadow DfID team,” she said.

Many of Creagh and Abbott’s criticisms of DfID reflect those outlined in a report published in February by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact.

Current Secretary of State Justine Greening oversees a $12 billion annual aid budget at DfID, which just surpassed European Union institutions to become the second largest global aid donor, after the United States, according to a report published by multilateral research organization, Development Initiatives.

For more U.K. news, views and analysis visit the Future of DfID series page, follow @devex on Twitter and tweet using the hashtag #FutureofDfID.

About the author

Molly Andersmollyanders_dev

Molly is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in London, she covers U.K. foreign aid and trends in international development. She draws on her experience covering aid legislation and the USAID implementer community in Washington, D.C., as well as her time as a Fulbright Fellow and development practitioner in the Middle East to develop stories with insider analysis.

Join the Discussion