Radical approaches to development around the world

By Jessica Toale

New Zealand’s foreign minister has just announced a reset of its aid policy with a more strategic focus on the Pacific. A year and a half ago, Canada launched its feminist international assistance policy, closely following in the footsteps of Sweden’s feminist foreign policy. This year China launched an official development cooperation agency at the same time as USAID faced a major organisational restructure.

All over the world governments are examining their diplomatic and development policies, budgets and departments in an attempt to define their USPs and respond to new geopolitical realities, economic constraints and internal dynamics — all with a close eye on the support of the public they serve at home.

The UK as one of the world’s major economies and one of the world’s biggest donors — both in absolute terms and as a percentage of our GDP — has an important and much examined role to play on the global stage. Long standing commitments from all UK political parties have characterized our international support including support for rule of law, freedoms, access to essential services like health and education, gender equality and women’s rights and more prosperous economies and secure countries overseas. However, of late the debate has largely manifest as a perpetual tussle over whether aid should be delivered as a moral responsibility or in the national interest, and where the weight of delivering on and communicating these priorities to the public should fall.

In March 2018, Kate Osamor, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for international development, launched a new policy paper entitled “A world for the many, not the few” in which she set out a new plan to put inequality in the driving seat next to poverty reduction as primary purpose of the UK’s foreign assistance. Following extensive consultation with experts and civil society groups, Osamor described this policy document as ‘the start of a conversation’.

“A world for the many, not the few”

In this spirit the Oxford Fabians and the Fabian International Policy Group convened a meeting in May to discuss radical approaches to foreign policy and what steps Labour can take to implement a new approach to our diplomatic and development policy.

While broad and fundamental questions were raised throughout the meeting about what we are trying to achieve with our foreign policy, three main alternative approaches were discussed and examined:

The Decolonial Approach

The first radical approach discussed was a decolonial approach to foreign policy. As the home of the decolonial movement, Oxford was an apt place to host this meeting. This approach is broadly defined as one which understands and attempts to undo the negative effects of colonialisation and re-centres the views of the colonised in our policy decisions. Max Harris, a fellow at All Soul’s College and author of the New Zealand Project, described the approach as one which reviews the negative effects of colonialism as a starting point, is values-driven not interest-based, independent, and forges new alliances, particularly with liberation movements around the world. Kate Osamor added that this needs to be part of a cross government approach. Education is also an important part of this approach, and speakers called for a re-examination of the coverage of colonialism in our school’s curriculum.

Socialist Internationalism

Closely related to this was discussion of a return to the principles of socialist internationalism, drawing from movements to fight oppression, apartheid and colonialism. There were strong calls for a re-politicisation of our foreign policy. Neha Shah, Chair of the Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality and Oxford Decolonise Now, talked about the need to take responsibility for past actions in our foreign policy and for cross-government coherence on issues that have both domestic and foreign policy relevance. In particular the panel raised recognition of Palestine, rhetoric on immigration and the negative impacts of government’s Prevent strategy, the latter two of which reveal the extent of this foreign and domestic entanglement.

Feminist Foreign Policy Approach

Shaista Aziz, co-founder of Intersectional Feminist Foreign Policy and Women’s Co-Chair of the Oxford Labour Party, described the lack of women’s voices in the government’s foreign policy as disastrous and its work in fragile states in particular as superficial. Women with intersectional identities need to be seen and heard and an integral part of policy development. Drawing from the experiences of Sweden and Canada, this approach is also generally cross-government and characterized by support for women’s grassroots groups, funding commitments to women run programming, and has gender sensitivity integrated into policy and programme design and implementation.

The meeting went on to examine these and other questions like what a Labour Foreign Office would look like in small groups.

Labour has been seeking a distinctive approach to its foreign policy since Robin Cook declared an ethical foreign policy. Attempts have been made including Labour’s focus on inequality and sustainable development during the course of the UN’s post-2015 negotiations.

The Fabian IPG hope that this can be the start of a fruitful conversation, leveraging the deep experience and knowledge of our members, in conjunction with our Labour shadow foreign teams.

  • By Jessica Toale (Fabian IPG member and former group convener)
**If you would like to get more involved with this project or other Fabian IPG projects please contact MARTYN Rush / RAYHAN Haque.**