THE BLOG

Last But Not Least...

22/04/2015 14:06 BST | Updated 20/06/2015 10:59 BST

The heat of the election campaign this week gave way to a bit more light, with the publication of the manifestos of the major political parties. Rather than piecing together the parties' respective positions on development from speeches, blog posts or remarks in Parliament, we now have a formal written statement of what they would seek to achieve if successful in their bid to form the next Government. So what did we learn?

Firstly, it does seem as though the consensus on aid and development, tested in recent months and years more severely than before, has just about survived:

The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative Parties all pledge to protect the 0.7% aid commitment - perhaps to be expected, with the recent passage into law of an act to make the 0.7% Gross National Income (GNI) target legally binding, but still good to hear. There is also generally a pretty good showing for the issues that Sightsavers focuses on, although the emphasis varies across the different manifestos.

All three of the largest parties of the past Parliament talk about health as a development priority in their manifesto, which is great to see. The Conservative Party has pledged to focus on "the development of vaccines and drugs to eliminate the world's deadliest infectious diseases", whilst also recognising the importance of water and sanitation in ensuring good health, promising to ensure 60 million more people get access to this basic right.

The Liberal Democrats have similar language on the elimination of preventable diseases - perhaps reflecting the two parties' shared experience over the past five years at the Department of International Development (DFID) of implementing new investments in tackling neglected tropical diseases, which affect one billion people, causing pain, disability and poverty on a huge scale around the world.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, set out a focus on supporting countries to "provide free healthcare", and list among their pledges the commitment to "establish a Centre for Universal Health Coverage". The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has taught the world that health systems are not only local and national, but also global and it is in all our interests for health care in developing countries to improve. That requires a combination of the visions of the three main parties, with targeted action to eliminate preventable diseases or control outbreaks coupled with a focus on building the systems necessary to provide basic health care to the entire population.

On inclusive development (defined loosely as "development that benefits all, not selected groups") there was similarly a spread of ideas:

The Conservative Party confirm that they "will continue to support universal human rights", and - in line with the other parties - allude to the current negotiation process for a new set of global development goals, in which they support the aim to eradicate extreme poverty.

The Labour Party has made human rights a more prominent part of the offer to the electorate, aiming to put them "at the heart of development", and to focus on inequality as well as poverty in what remains of the framework negotiation process.

While both Labour and The Conservatives have recognised the importance of disability in speeches and other statements in the past, the Liberal Democrats are alone in singling out disability in their manifesto, referring to it as a cause of discrimination and disadvantage that must be overcome. As with health, the ideal policy would build on the best of these, delivering development assistance which targets inequalities including disability, gender and age and which allows the world's 1 billion people living with a disability to fulfil their potential and be active agents in pulling themselves, their families and communities out of poverty.

Of course, there are other challengers in town, and this week also saw manifesto launches from the Scottish National Party (SNP), Green Party and UKIP...

While the Green Party's strong commitment to internationalism was evident, there was not a lot of detail on how they would prioritise the UK's aid budget; although they did go above and beyond the recent legislation in committing to increase UK Aid to 1% of GNI.

The SNP reiterated support for the 0.7% target, but again offer little detail on how this would be spent, rather focusing on what it shouldn't be spent on (defence expenditure and undermining public services).

UKIP, on the other hand, have made their well-known aversion to aid more specific, saying it would be cut to 0.2% of GNI, and the Department for International Development would cease to function as a stand-alone department. It is a shame that UKIP do not share our pride in the UK's long history of supporting the world's most vulnerable people, or recognise DFID's record of excellence as a leading aid donor, although their priorities for that much reduced expenditure do include health, which is some good news.

Generally, then, there is a lot to welcome in this year's crop of manifestos. In this age of coalitions, the idea that the best bits of one or more of them might be used to build a coherent and ambitious overall development policy is not so fanciful as it once was. Some things have not changed, however: I look forward to the day when I don't have to turn to the very last page of these lengthy documents to find out what the parties have to say about international development. It is, after all, a world we live in, not a series of goldfish bowls.

Take a look at Sightsavers' own manifesto