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Conference diary - Conservatives, Manchester

4 October 2013 | By Barry Johnston

So that’s it. All over for another year. Christian Aid’s advocacy team wrapped up its conference road show with a trip to the northwest for the Conservative gathering. This year the focus was on 'hard working people'. We felt like we fitted right in.

Theresa May and Barry Johnston at Conservative Party conference

Theresa May, Home Secretary, MP for Maidenhead, pictured with Barry Johnston, Christian Aid's Senior UK Political Adviser.

Commitment to international development

Hosted by the Christian Conservative Fellowship, we were joined for the four days of the Conservative Party Conference by colleagues from a variety of other development agencies, including CAFOD, Tearfund and World Vision.

We were there to make the case for the party to maintain its commitment to international development.

The commitment appears to be holding. Senior Cabinet members continued to speak proudly about the UK meeting its aid promises and on the eve of conference, DFID announced a world-leading £1 billion pledge to the Global Fund to fight AIDS/ TB and Malaria

Aid budget

However, there has been some concern for a while that the leadership’s commitment to aid and development may not enjoy fulsome support across the party’s rank and file.

What was striking this year was the lack of any criticism, and the support we encountered from the party members - MPs, MEPs, Peers, Councillors and activists - who visited our stall.

Those that have made a habit of taking pot-shots at the aid budget seemed to have set their sights on other targets.

Private sector

Unsurprisingly, the private sector featured prominently. It was notable that the PM’s reference to the aid budget came in the passage of his speech that dealt with growing trade relationships with emerging economies.

No bad thing. But it was a shame that he did not take the time also to reflect on perhaps his most significant achievement this year - agreeing major commitments to tackling tax dodging at this year’s G8 .

The PM deserves credit for insisting on the global importance of tax and financial transparency. But, as was the persistent refrain in his speech, 'the job’s not finished yet'.

That’s why we were so pleased by the dozens of MPs who showed up at our stall to back our campaign to clamp down on phantom firms, and call on the PM to deliver his own commitment to ensure that companies disclose publicly who really owns them. Facebook gallery: find out who was there >

This would help to stop corruption and tax dodging from undermining the effects of aid and economic growth.

Green issues

As with the Lib Dem and Labour conferences, green issues again made the headlines, though unfortunately not for the most positive of reasons.

First, the Chancellor put a question mark over the UK’s leadership on global emissions reductions. Then, the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson made claims that climate change would benefit Britain by extending growing seasons and reducing deaths from cold in winter.

IPCC report

These comments were all the more  worrying, coming right after the recent report by an independent panel of scientific experts - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change .

The report warned that human activity is ‘unequivocally’ causing climate change, with the potential for catastrophic impacts if current emissions patterns remain.

Tackling climate change

'Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community.'

Ahead of the last election, the Conservative Party set out an ambitious and positive agenda to tackle climate change, not in spite of their conservatism, but because of it.

As they gear up for the next election, and begin to draft a 2015 manifesto, those voices within the party that are committed to sensible and responsible stewardship of the environment will have to speak up louder than ever.

At the end of a conference dedicated to the memory of Margaret Thatcher, perhaps it’s best to leave the last word to her.

'Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order,' she said in a speech at the second World Climate Conference, in Geneva in 1990.

Sure, it will be hard work. But as the banners in Manchester pointed out, that’s the point.



Find out more

Conference diary: Liberal Democrats

Conference diary: Labour

Christian Aid campaigns blog 



Act now

Act now >Let's give tax dodgers nowhere to hide. Call on Vince Cable to ensure public registers are created, showing the real owners of phantom firms.



About the author

Barry Johnston is Christian Aid's senior UK political adviser.

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