Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner and Rachel Reeves launch Labour’s campaign bus at Uxbridge College whilst on the General Election campaign trail. Credit: Keir Starmer -
Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner and Rachel Reeves launch Labour’s campaign bus at Uxbridge College whilst on the General Election campaign trail. Credit: Keir Starmer - ATTRIBUTION-NONCOMMERCIAL-NODERIVS 2.0 GENERIC

A warm welcome to the new government. . . Now our hard work starts

Congratulations to Keir Starmer and his team on winning yesterday’s general election by a landslide.

On behalf of Bond and our 380 members, we really look forward to working with them in order to, in their own words, ‘turn the page to rebuild Britain’s reputation on international development with a new approach based on genuine respect and partnership with the global South to support our common interests.’ It’s a great ambition from Labour, but there is no time to waste.

The first thing Sir Keir should do is to actually turn up at the big global summits. His predecessor sadly missed the UN Summit designed to assess progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, President Macron’s high-level summit on financing development, and the Biden-hosted replenishment of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and only attended the COP climate summit reluctantly.

This matters, because it sends a key signal to the UK’s partners and allies around the world about how seriously we take global cooperation and our shared responsibilities, including to those in lower and middle-income countries (LMICs). Trust and confidence in the UK have been seriously damaged by our response to the COVID pandemic and the climate crisis. We need to re-establish some of these vital relationships. September’s Summit for the Future, November’s COP and the 2025 Financing for Development Conference will all be key moments for a renewed UK role.

Secondly, the new government needs to get serious about financing development. This is not just about returning to the 0.7% aid spending target, vital though that is. It also means recognising that we need to stop spending one third of our aid budget on hosting asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. Treating refugees well is vital, but we shouldn’t be using our scarce aid budget in this way. Ensuring that the Home Office fund this area directly from their own budgets would also ensure they become more efficient in speeding up asylum processing, which would be win-win for both asylum seekers and the public purse.

The financing agenda needs to go much beyond ODA, however, and there are many areas in which the UK plays an outsized role and needs do much more. This includes introducing new legislation to compel private creditors to take part in debt relief processes and driving the reform of global tax systems to prevent multinational tax avoidance and create more democratic decision making on tax. Labour’s commitment to supporting faster reform of the global financial system will also be very helpful in ensuring more and better financing for global challenges.

Third, it is very welcome to see a strong commitment from Labour on the importance of local leadership of development efforts and ‘genuine respect and partnership.’ Bond members have a lot to contribute to this discussion, having worked hard to localise and to shift power for some years. Initiatives abound across the sector, including participatory grant making, passing on overheads to partners, exiting partnerships responsibly, transforming governance arrangements, amending our language and images, and transitioning to becoming local organisations. Labour could do more to support these efforts by, for example, providing longer-term and flexible core funding to local organisations. We look forward to working closely with the new government on this agenda.

Fourth, we need to see more and better collaboration with civil society, and greater civic space. Civicus has rated civic space in the UK as ‘obstructed’, worse than any of our western European and North American partners. The UK will only be able to advocate effectively internationally on democracy and human rights issues if we can get our own house in order first. Bond has a lot to say about effective consultation and collaboration with civil society, and looks forward to sharing this with the new government.

Finally, we need to see a new ‘whole of government’ approach to meeting the sustainable development goals. This means efforts across trade, finance, security, migrants and energy all contributing, with each government department being accountable for its own contribution, with independent reviewing and reporting to parliament.

‘Development’ should no longer be seen as something purely for the FCDO, but a cross-governmental effort, requiring collaboration across departments and strong leadership from central departments such as the Treasury and Cabinet Office. Labour’s commitment to ‘strengthen international development work within the FCDO’ is welcome, and we expect to see greater investment in development expertise and capacity.

But a real ‘whole of government’ approach also needs a dedicated Secretary of State, able to effectively advocate as a full member of Cabinet, and we urge Keir Starmer to (re)create this role.

This takes me back to where I started. We need a Cabinet Minister, because this agenda is vital. It is not only vital for people living in poverty and affected by crises around the world,it is also vital for our global reputation and our soft power. When we hoarded vaccines in the pandemic, LMIC governments noticed. When we have failed to pay our fair share to tackle climate change, people in LMICs noticed. When we cut the aid budget with almost no warning, our partners certainly noticed. When we fail to show up to global summits, they notice.

Our new government is right to want to rebuild our global reputation, and this work really cannot start too soon. Bond and our members look forward to working with the new government to make it a reality.

We have a series of blogs looking at the tall task facing the new government and what they need to prioritise, looking at UK aid (out Monday 8 July), the SDGs, humanitarian issues and locally led development. You can also read the Bond manifesto 2024: a global system for people and the planet, developed with our members.