Labour left office three years ago this month and may return to it just two years from now. That’s not a very long time in which to formulate a distinctive foreign policy for government, nor to game out responses to the massive shifts in the global strategic context in which the next Prime Minister will be operating.
To lend a hand, Labour think tank/ pressure group Progress have commissioned a series on progressive dilemmas in foreign policy, addressing the 12 big questions where the tensions between different left-of-centre first principles are most acute. Whatever your politics, we hope seeing how that debate plays out inside what could be the next governing party of Britain will be of interest. May 16, 2013 at 4:02 pm | More on Cooperation and coherence, Global system | Comment
When I first started working in the AIDS movement in the mid noughties the picture was plausibly apocalyptic, but on World AIDS Day 2012 we are celebrating that an AIDS-free generation is now within our grasp. So what happened?
The acceleration of the science is one huge part of the story, but the effectiveness of the AIDS movement is at least as important and future campaigners can learn a lot from one of the most successful global mobilisations of the last few decades. For me three main lessons stand out:
1) It starts with rights. Determining when to claim partial victory is the sort of thing that keeps movement leaders up at night. Overstate it and you lose the incentive for supporters to act, understate it and you lose the incentive for policy-makers to act. The moral and strategic tensions are captured in a (no doubt apocryphal) story told about a dispute inside the debt movement where one staffer accused another of being ‘the kind of person that during abolitionism would have been lobbying for more comfortable boats’. AIDS activism has successfully defined those tensions away by being more of a human rights movement than a development one. With early roots in gay liberation politics, the movement has always focused on those whose needs are greatest, not those whose stories are easiest to sell. It takes real courage to advocate for heroin addicts and sex workers at the same time as orphans and infected newborns, but unflinching honesty about the true nature of the epidemic has been, in the end, one of the movement’s great strengths.
2) Injustice speaks for itself. From the UK’s Terrence Higgins Trust to South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign, the highest impact organisations have not been founded in solidarity by the charitable but in fury by the affected. I have written before about the importance of advocacy’s amateurs and for me the history of AIDS is the clearest example of why the advocacy ‘professionals’ should get out of the way and let the people who need to know ask the powerful how much they think their lives are worth.
3) Institutions matter. The Global Fund, for all its faults, is multilateralism’s great success story. Its record is a triumph of institutional design, the result of a very special chemistry between the public, private and third sectors and people affected by the three diseases. While some education advocates have already started pushing for a replica for education, there is no other institution quite like the Global Fund, and no particularly good reason for that to be the case. The case for reform of global governance is painfully familiar to Global Dashboard readers, but we should try to learn at least as much from what we’ve got right as what we’ve got wrong.
4) It takes coalitions of the willing. It bears constant repetition that the man behind the world’s first government anti-AIDS campaign was a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. Likewise, while the global AIDS fight is now one of the few areas of bipartisan consensus in the United States, it was a Republican rather than Democrat incumbent of the White House who first initiated a scaled emergency response and a distinguished veteran of George Bush’s PEPFAR who will now be leading global efforts at the new chief of the Global Fund.
We still have a long way to go but at a time when so many promises are being broken, tomorrow provides a good chance to remember that, just sometimes, campaigning works and the results can be spectacular when it does.
November 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm | More on Economics and development, Global system, Influence and networks | Comments Off
Next week I am speaking at an event jointly organised by LGBT groups and development campaigners to consider whether legal reform drives social change. While there is patchy evidence from India that decriminalisation can spark some changes in social attitudes, the activist who filed the original legal challenge with the Delhi High Court thinks her victory has done little to shift social norms and reports suggest that over 70% of Indians would like to see it overturned. In Brazil the 2011 Supreme Court victory on partnership rights took place the year after 260 LGBT people were murdered in the country while South Africa, which boasts some of the most comprehensive gay equality laws in the world, has become globally famous for the “corrective rape” of lesbians.
Meanwhile Britain’s laws are so progressive that the UK has been recognised as the best place in Europe to be gay, but researchers put the huge shifts in British social attitudes down more to pop culture than hard fought legislative change. Public opinion in the United States is slowly (but not smoothly) heading in the right direction, but the marriage amendment battles across the country are opening up new fronts in the culture war, like the viral hit “two lesbians raised a baby and this is what they got”.
So the big question for international campaigners is this: if the national law-makers of a country can’t reliably bend its public opinion, do any of us have much hope of winning hearts and minds from afar? One approach has been the mobilisation of a global transnational movement, modelled on Avaaz.org. All Out is a global campaign supported by over a million people (half of them straight) who have organised online to highlight everything from ‘gay cure’ church services in Europe to the arrest of a gay man for sending a romantic text in Cameroon. Another new initiative is The Kaleidoscope Trust which focuses on providing funding and practical support to organisations on the ground, while The Human Dignity Trust connects multi-national law firms with lawyers bringing human rights cases against their own governments.
But perhaps of greatest interest to the development campaigners in the room will be the role that donor governments can play. A recent spate of high profile anti-gay initiatives in Africa caused Prime Minister Cameron to use a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last year to draw explicit links between continued British aid and respect for gay rights while President Obama instructed USAID to factor a country’s gay rights record into its allocations.
That raises all sorts of difficult questions. Is aid a ‘reward’ for good human rights behaviour, or solely an instrument of poverty reduction? If it is the former, how and why would we measure gay rights performance compared to, say, protection of ethnic minorities or the disabled? And if it is the latter, how do we manage the transition from direct budget support if the evidence suggests that it has the greatest impact on poverty in the country concerned? There is a question too about whether perceptions of outside ‘interference’ do more harm than good and encourage some governments to increase persecution of gay people as an assertion of independence.
Notwithstanding the great work being done by all the organisations above, I haven’t been able to find much analysis of how these competing justice claims can be reconciled, nor very comprehensive evidence about when external pressure has been the decisive factor in a gay rights victory. I’d love reading and watching suggestions if you have them, so please leave in the comments below. September 28, 2012 at 12:10 pm | More on Economics and development, Influence and networks | 1 Comment
In light of the great news that Oxfam are shifting to “focus more on national level change and relatively less on often-fruitless global summitry”, I’ve been thinking a bit about potent national campaigns like those started by David Kato in Uganda and Zackie Achmat in South Africa.
In both cases their activism was a response to a lived imperative, not a priority sifted from a list during a strategic planning process. It led to campaigns which were creative, insistent and bold, because failure meant dire personal consequences unthinkable to those of us in the North whose biggest worries are restless trustees and falling donations.
Their movements got momentum, in part, because the political could not have been more personal. That entanglement between the story and the strategy also seems to be one of the drivers of the huge growth of Change.org: it is hard to imagine, for example, 2 million signatures on a petition started by anybody other than Trayvon Martin’s parents.
Likewise, last week’s news in Britain was dominated by the damning findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel which uncovered what the Telegraph, reporting the Prime Minister’s moving Commons Statement, called “a campaign to smear the dead”. In the face of those slurs, victims’ families have waged a 23 year campaign of their own, in the process taking on one of the most powerful newspapers in the country and a police force engaged in what the Guardian called a conspiracy mounted “with the connivance of several pillars of (the) establishment”.
Faced with those odds, how many big brand charities or public affairs firms would have taken on the fight, far less kept it up for nearly quarter of a century? And would any of the advocacy “professionals” we know have been as courageous or effective as this extraordinary group made up of the affected, the angry and the amateur? It has all got me thinking that maybe subsidiarity in an NGO context could mean not just devolving campaigning power to the right countries, but further down to the right people too. September 17, 2012 at 10:23 am | More on Economics and development, Influence and networks | 4 Comments
In 2005 the development charities got the keys to Number 10 – but they still don’t understand why.
Before I was an adviser in Gordon Brown’s Downing Street I sat on the board of Make Poverty History and witnessed from both sides the disagreement among the campaign’s leaders about how they had come to occupy their privileged place in public life. Their divisions would be of only passing historical interest were the competing analyses not informing NGO planning for Britain’s next G8 in 2013 – and hampering their ability to influence the Conservative-led government they face now.
Labour was responsive to public campaigning not, as some believe, because charity mobilisations ‘forced’ its ministers into doing anything, but because organisations which favoured redistributive spending on foreign aid were always assured of at least a hearing from a social democratic government, particularly one headed by two men with such long-standing interest in Africa. Added to that was a strong overlap in personnel, with many Make Poverty History campaigners drawing on a background in Labour politics and many government aides being poached from the sector itself.
The extent to which both the issues and the leadership of the campaign enjoyed an open door infuriated some members of the coalition who argued that proximity meant ‘co-option’ – a process which would dilute our demands and derail our strategy. In reality the risk of that happening (and the benefit to the Government even if it had) was always overstated – and is in any event much less important than whether the strength of the relationship bred a complacency which stopped organisations auditing their underlying strategic strength in preparation for a change of government.
Precisely because the Labour leadership never challenged our mandate, the campaign didn’t come to a settled view about whether its power came from being ‘right’ (in both the moral and technical senses of the word) or from being popular. The charity coalition was split on that and while neither side conclusively won the toss, both need to be honest about the vulnerabilities in their argument.
The ‘purists’ who felt Make Poverty History should get its way because of the weight of its moral claims and its technical expertise need to acknowledge that they now have some first class competition. The increasing stature of development economics inside the academy and the creation of a separate development ministry staffed with the brightest fast-streamers means NGOs no longer have the monopoly on knowing or caring about the poor. Ministers can’t be expected to believe charity campaign officers are automatically more ethical than the DFID civil servants who toil for less pay on the same issues – nor that their policy output is inherently superior to that of Oxford or the LSE.
Meanwhile, the ‘populists’ relied on accounts of public support which were always debatable, with the banner reading ‘You are G8, we are six billion’ and tabloid headline ‘5 billion people can’t be wrong’ among the more memorable examples. There is no doubt that Make Poverty History surpassed any other campaign mobilisation this century in terms of British popular support – but getting one organised subset of the public to wear a wrist band or send an email will not always trump the views of the millions of opponents who may not mount a campaign but whose presence will be powerfully felt during the rolling polling process which characterises modern democratic politics.
None of this is to say, of course, that charity campaigns can never be morally inspiring, analytically rigorous or democratically potent – indeed, they should be aspiring to be all three – merely that they are not inherently any of these things simply by virtue of emerging from the third sector.
This Government has made its overture to service-delivery charities with the Big Society – if campaigning ones want their hearing they will need to do more than flash their civil society membership cards and relive past glories. August 23, 2012 at 8:09 am | More on Economics and development, Influence and networks | 1 Comment
In 1988, the majority of Britons couldn’t name their MP – but a staggering 92% of the population knew the name of an ANC leader imprisoned 6000 miles away in Robben Island. Fast forward to 2005 and more people wore white Make Poverty History wrist-bands than voted for the government. There’s a deep internationalist tradition on these islands, but in 2012 the 99% have shut the door.
One reason for that is obvious; when our homes, jobs and savings are threatened instincts of self-preservation will tend to crowd out the generosity of spirit on which all solidarity actions depend. It is no accident that both the international anti-globalisation movement and the Jubilee and Global Call to Action Against Poverty movements which succeeded it all experienced their peaks during the long boom.
Across the Western world insecurity is breeding insularity – but also exposing that progressives have a different account of fairness from the public whose interests we claim to champion.
One report from Oxfam – A Safe and Just Space for Humanity – argues that we must learn to live above a social floor but below a planetary ceiling, in a state of ‘justice’ where nobody has so little their life cannot be tolerably sustained, but nobody consumes so much that we are all endangered. It is informed by earlier work by Alex Evans of New York University’s Centre for International Cooperation in which he argues that climate constraints mean we need an account of how to allocate ‘fair shares’ of the resources and wealth which currently exist instead of assuming a long-term consensus on growth.
These interventions are highly provocative, intelligent and timely, but we need to recognise that justice and fairness are not technical variables to be measured but political concepts to be struggled over. They are the most fiercely disputed terms in politics precisely because most public policy debate boils down to justice as fairness versus justice as desert – is ‘justice’ secured when everybody has an equitable share, or when people get out roughly what they put in?
This is the tension which animates public policy debates from welfare reform in Britain to immigration in South Africa and given the political brutality with which the definition of ‘fairness’ is contested inside nations we can hardly hope to define it away when it comes to relationships between them.
That means the thinkers and activists of the global justice movement need an answer for the American car worker who believes he has ‘earned’ more carbon space than the Bangladeshi villager by virtue of making goods the rest of the world wants to buy. We won’t find an answer which will satisfy him until we accept it’s neither a philosophical abstraction nor a question capable of being settled by development ‘science’. Instead this is politics in the raw; the struggle about who has what, how they got it, whether they should keep it and with what legitimacy it can be taken away. The fight to frame justice – not just the campaign to secure it – is the battle we need to win now. August 20, 2012 at 8:03 am | More on Climate and resource scarcity, Economics and development | 2 Comments