2005 is going to be, election victory willing, an historic
year for the Labour government. Aside from the expected third
term, the second half of the year should see Tony Blair setting
the agenda for both the G8 and European Union, unprecedented
for a British Prime Minister. The sniff of opportunity has
got the development industry salivating in anticipation,
no more so than when Bono stole the show in Brighton last
September. It was an impassioned and well-received appeal,
no, demand that the British government take the initiative
during their unique leadership of both the G8 and EU to push
forward debt relief and AIDS treatment within the developing
world, especially Africa. But despite Bono's call for the
membership to hold their leadership to account about their
development promises, there is a nagging and underlying feeling
that no matter how impassioned, how persuasive, how charismatic
an address the speech was, his ongoing battle is, and will
be in the foreseeable future, in vain.
For even if the UK manages to set the development agenda
during its EU presidency, or instigate G8 initiatives, there
is a simple fact within Western democracies that has to be
faced. Development issues do not win votes. In fact, they
are more likely to lose them, both in rural as well as urban
areas of the country.
Reform farm subsides and lose the countryside; reduce tariffs
on manufactured goods, and those who rely on what little
heavy industry is left won't be likely to forgive you either.
It is similar to the problems faced by our politicians regarding
taxation. Poll after poll cites the public's desire for greater
expenditure on education, security, the health service and
so on. Yet, election result after election result would indicate
that when push came to shove, they would rather not vote
for the party that came clean in its manifesto, saying that,
to pay for such increases, there would have to be an incremental
rise in taxes. Development issues stimulate a comparable
response. The public know that the developing world needs
financial assistance from Western governments in order to
survive. They donate to NGOs and other organisations, whether
out of duty, or conscience, or just a plain old will to make
things better for those less well-off than ourselves.
However, say to a man in Bourneville that in order for a
country such as Ghana to progress and radically improve its
citizens lives, he might have to sacrifice his job, as reduced
tariffs on chocolate would encourage Ghanaian companies to
build their own factories and export their product with lower
costs than their Western counterparts, and you may end up
with a punch in the mouth, let alone his vote at the next
The challenge, therefore, for governments committed to development
is to convince our man in Bourneville that his sacrifice
is worthwhile; that the future of the country is partly in
his hands. It requires, for want of a better phrase, the
development industry to sell itself, not to the people who
need it, but to the people who may not ever see or appreciate
the benefits that they will receive.
There has been much disparagement of the Bush administration
over its 'bull in a china shop' approach to the war on terror.
But criticism could be laid at the door of the peaceniks
for not arguing their case strongly enough and embedding
it in the minds of the electorate. They're not arguing clearly
enough that, as Bono and many others have championed, the
war on terror is inexorably linked to the war on poverty.
That as long as governments all around the world oppress
and denigrate their populations with what those populations
perceive as the complicit help of Western governments, then
extremism will only flourish. So it logically follows that
if you reduce poverty and oppression, you reduce the influence
that extremists have, and therefore the security threat that
their organisations possess. For to reduce poverty and promote
equality is to slow down, if not stop, the stream of suicide
bombers getting on the bus out of desperation.
And yet this approach to the security threat is denigrated
on the campaign trail as being soft, terrorist-friendly.
The portrayed 'way forward' is one that fights the symptoms,
not the cause of terrorism. We shouldn't be seeing a war
A true war on terror involves work being done out of public
view: the infiltration of terrorist organisations, the gathering
of information, the loosening of trade tariffs, the promotion
of genuine economic and political development. In other words
the kind of work that doesn't win elections, just friends.