What happened at the Labour Party Conference 2019?
26 September 2019
It was former prime minister Harold Wilson who said that a week is a long time in politics.
Never has a statement been more accurate considering this week’s tumultuous events in Westminster. Away from London, the Labour Party held its annual conference in the sunny seaside town of Brighton.
The conference was a chance for party members, businesses, charities, and activists to come together and discuss the current issues of the day.
Some of the parties, including Labour, use this conference as an opportunity to let their membership decide what the party’s policy should be. While a lot of this is domestically focused, there were some significant policy developments on the conference floor that could substantially impact on the world’s poorest.
The Labour Party became one of the first major political parties to fully endorse “the Green New Deal”, promising to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2030 – 20 years earlier than the current government proposal. This was praised by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic Member of the House of Representatives and sponsor of the “Green New Deal” legislation in the US.
This is a significant commitment by an opposition party to tackle the climate and environment crisis, an issue that often affects the world’s poorest long before everyone else.
International development on the fringes
As with all conferences, there were many fringe events hosted by businesses, think tanks, and charities. Bond held its usual annual drinks reception, in partnership with the Labour Campaign for International Development (LCID), with guest speeches from the shadow secretary of state for international development Dan Carden MP, shadow minister for international development Preet Gill MP, Mann Virdee chair of LCID and Bond CEO Stephanie Draper.
Carden provided full-hearted support for maintaining the independence of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the 0.7% target, saying that the figure was “the floor, not the ceiling” of Labour’s ambitions for aid spending. He emphasised that a Labour government would “prioritise people rather than profit”, a sentiment echoed in his article on Politics Home.
Gill used her speech to highlight the importance of a cross-governmental approach in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Virdee acknowledged the great work Bond members do: “Every day for last 20 years 130,000 people escaped extreme poverty - that’s an incredible fact that we don’t talk about enough!”
Our members and allies were out in force at the Labour party conference this year, raising the concerns of the climate crisis, social injustice and inequality, and conflict and refugee protection.
Numerous high-profile parliamentarians spoke unequivocally of the importance of aid, and of Labour’s commitment to its internationalist principles, at other sector fringe events.
Bond’s CEO Stephanie Draper spoke at a Prospect magazine event discussing the private sector’s role in international development with Adam Smith International, at which she stressed that we need to “ensure that not only do we invest in global health and education for all, but have thriving civil society in developing countries so that they can hold their own governments to account.”
Faith organisations held multiple events including a joint “Faith in Aid” event which highlighted the important role faith organisations play in the fight to eradicate poverty and inequality around the world.
Oxfam GB invited shadow home secretary Diane Abbott MP and shadow minister for international development Preet Gill MP to share their thoughts on how Labour can adopt a feminist approach to tackling global inequality, which was featured in Devex article.
Highlights from Emily Thornberry
Due to the resumption of parliament, speeches were moved around and cancelled so that MPs could get back to London on Wednesday – the final day that is normally reserved for the leader’s speech. However, before the timetable was changed, the shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry took to the stage to reiterate Labour’s plans for DFID if they were to win the next general election.
Taking to the stage in Brighton, Thornberry said that the Labour Party “will ensure that the overseas aid budget is used to support…the poorest people in the world, including through a new Unit of Public Services within DFID, which will help developing countries stand on their own two feet, strengthen their infrastructure, healthcare and education, and help governments in those countries give their citizens the public services they need.”
Further to this, the MP for Islington South said that Labour will “maintain our pledges on spending, continue to pursue solidarity and global justice, and keep up our fight against global poverty, inequality, and most importantly, climate-change.”
Other speeches including speeches by the Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Kier Starmer, and Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey stressed Labour’s commitment to peace, reconciliation, human rights, and climate justice.
We will be at the Conservative Party Conference next week, so look out for our highlights on all things international development. Check out relevant events at the conference here.