Conservatives can unite behind a ‘Global Britain’ that’s a compassionate Britain

CFID Director, Caroline Squire highlights the support from across the Conservative Party for Britain to continue to be an development superpower.

Conservatives can unite behind a ‘Global Britain’ that’s a compassionate Britain

As Brexit approaches, and the UK seeks to redefine its role on the world stage, the Prime Minister and the International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, have recently been setting out their commitment to ensuring a Global Britain is a compassionate Britain. At the UN General Assembly using the example of improving access to education, the Prime Minister argued “not only is it the right thing to do, but it is also at the heart of the UK’s drive to boost economic growth, improve stability and reduce conflict around the world”. In short, the ‘soft power’ of international development should be felt far beyond its direct beneficiaries.

At Conservative Party Conference, Conservative Friends of International Development (CFID) collaborated with the NGO Save the Children to publish an essay collection by 12 Conservative parliamentarians, setting out their views on the role Britain plays in helping developing countries to stand on their own two feet. Not only do these essays cover a wide range of policy areas – from tackling plastic pollution, through to the role of women in fragile states and investing in girls’ education – but they come from right across the party, regardless of whether they voted leave or remain. Andrea Jenkyns has written about the importance of UK leadership in eradicating malaria, alongside our Chair Jeremy Lefroy on the need for a UK Development Bank and former Development Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell’s piece on the UK’s role in the conflict in Yemen.

As Director of CFID, it is clear from my conversations with Parliamentarians this is an agenda that can and should unite a large proportion of the party. Thanks to Project’s Umubano, Shapla, Maja and latterly Urafiki, for over eleven years Conservative members have been able to share their skills as doctors, teachers, business people or volunteers through the party’s social action projects in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Tanzania. Volunteers will tell you they have learnt as much as they have shared from our in-country partners and welcome the opportunity to engage with the UK’s international development role. Hundreds of members - including dozens of Parliamentarians - have got involved, creating a large base of support within the party. It is exciting to see in this essay collection such an array of parliamentarians, many of whom have seen its impact first-hand, who are prepared to make the case for Britain’s aid role.

I am immensely proud of the work the UK does, but argue there is more to be done to build public understanding and support for the life-saving and life-changing work of UK aid. The aid budget is under immense scrutiny, and rightly so. We need to explain better how development, diplomacy and defence are mutually reinforcing to our national security and continue to set out, as the Prime Minister has recently, how we can use aid to stimulate job creation and economic growth. Long term dependency on aid alone is the last thing the UK or the receiving countries themselves desire. There is no one size fits all to building peace and prosperity, but a focus on poverty and assisting fragile states increase their own home-grown capacity for example, within governance institutions (such as tax collection) and the private sector is key to enabling the development partners of today move beyond aid to become trading partners of tomorrow.

It is clear from the engagement of party members with CFID, and from the array of Parliamentarians keen to make the case for aid, that there is support among Conservatives of all hues for ensuring post-Brexit foreign policy is one where the UK continues to "put development at the heart of our international agenda" and sets an example as an international development superpower.

Caroline Squire is the Director of Conservative friends for International Development