My family went to a sort of Italian Jurassic Park without me and did not think about sending me pictures of the dinosaurs. I’ve pointed out to Mother that she’s known me for 27 years, she was there when my paediatrician called me a little tyrant aged 7 days, she’s in fact the only eye witness to this anecdote she uses to make fun of me for being (allegedly) bossy. She said something about how people can change interests over time, which made me realise I haven’t changed much at all.
I’m still the shy girl who wouldn’t dare to ask people to donate to her Lent fundraiser for the missionaries at church, so her relatives would take pity on her and make up the bulk of the donations (including a more generous pocket money allowance precisely at the time when I couldn’t just buy sweets at the youth club). So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve grown up to be passionate about international development. That I’ve had the courage to start a business, which means I ask people for money, maybe, but that the business has to do with that topic of international development should surprise no one.
Fast forward a couple of decades, when someone made a fairly casual remark that changed my life. He never gets credit for it, although thanks to that remark my life changed and I have met 80% of the people I call my friends, but had he never pointed out that I think like a conservative, and introduced me to the long historical tradition that is One Nation Conservatism, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Done with my aunt’s imposed membership of Amnesty International that she thought was the ideal 18th birthday present for someone she was trying to turn into a version of herself, and political movements I agreed with in terms of aims but not in terms of the means to achieve them.
However, it wouldn’t have been until my first party conference two years later that I would have stumbled upon the Conservatives Friends of International Development. It was by chance. They run a fringe event with Tearfund, an association I’ve always admired. I saw it at the very last minute. I’ve only got a seat out of someone being gentlemanly giving me his. I remember bumping into a friend who used to work for an MP at the end, and then said MP bumped into us and I basically just said “Hi, excuse me” and run after the organiser to get a copy of the report mentioned in the talk. It was their report on the Restorative Economy, and it changed my life as much as it changed the lives of the many people they help on a daily basis.
However, the topic of international development is one I’m still surprised to hear mentioned by people on the right in any favourable way beyond maybe “Trade not aid”. The idea is great if you talk about countries who are already past the lack of the basics (running water, sanitation and enough food, let alone a surplus to trade etc), but it isn’t an alternative approach. It’s what we should be aspiring to. Aid is not like giving charity money just through the state and without choice, and certainly a system should be in place to ensure that the money is used for what it’s needed for, rather than being pocketed by corrupt governments, and aid should reduce over time when the country can stand on their own feet. I’m not arguing with that but if you really believe that free trade and capitalism lifted this country into prosperity, then aid becomes the inevitable building block on which to make that happen everywhere else. Don’t you want all the world to be lifted up so we can also gain new markets and trading partners to grow ourselves? You had the luck to be born somewhere where only relative poverty is a thing, rather than somewhere people are actually starving at the mercy of the weather. You could have been born with nothing instead. For me at least, that’s a sobering reminder of my responsibilities towards others.
The principles of One Nation Conservatism are more universal than the name suggests. We live in an age of globalisation, and there are two metaphorical nations of haves and have nots. Maybe three if you want to separate the developing world from those still stuck in extreme poverty.
When you believe there is a minimum threshold on the grounds of our shared humanity then not everything can be done by markets, or through private charity. Some basics require structural changes, here and abroad. It’s not about the government intervening in markets, but about keeping some things beyond their remit, with a limited state which exists to guarantee those things and those things only.
Taking an interest in international development means that we make sure we don’t leave the future of the rest of the world in the hands of people who are blinded by ideologies that fail to deliver the prosperity that has built this great nation (google Venezuela). Every Conservative should be a friend of International Development.