LONDON — The U.K. election held June 8, 2017, ended with surprising results. Early on in polls, prime minister Theresa May and the Conservative party hoped to gain 100 seats in parliament. They lost 12. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party gained 29 seats. These two parties are still the largest in Parliament, but the changing dynamics mean that policies such as foreign aid may have a different standing now.
The Conservative party no longer holds a majority. While it is still the largest party in Parliament, its legislation will be harder to pass because other parties must support the Conservative agenda to garner enough votes. To make up for the lost seats, it appears the Conservative party may work with the Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Irish right-wing party with 10 seats. The Labour Party now holds 261 seats.
So what does the U.K. election mean for foreign aid policy? It’s hard to discern, as foreign aid was not a major campaign focus. The Conservative and Labour Parties’ agendas are likely the best indication of future legislation. The Democratic Unionist Party may become relevant if it joins the Conservatives, and its manifesto makes no mention of foreign aid.
It is thought that the U.K. has a large impact on the global foreign aid agenda. It is the second largest foreign aid donor, allocating 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to development assistance. Both the Conservative and Labour Parties wish to maintain this level of funding. How they wish to spend the aid is where the parties differ.
The Conservative Party is hoping to change the definition of development aid to include military spending in other countries. This would mean that supplying a country with tanks and weaponry could go toward that 0.7 percent of the budget. It is suspected that if this policy comes to a vote, Labour will fight these changes.
While during David Cameron’s time as Prime Minister the Conservative Party cut the budget of the Department for International Development, the Labour Party appears to support an expansion of the department. It believes there should be a cabinet member who represents the Department for International Development.
Both parties are committed to the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the U.N. The Labour Party will be publishing an annual report on progress towards these goals.
The two parties also diverge on foreign aid priorities. The Labour Party believes that tax reform should be a focus of parliament’s role in foreign aid. Tax loopholes allow businesses and individuals to keep their money in countries with lower taxes. This reduces the amount of taxes going to governments, which could be used to build infrastructure and more in developing countries. It is estimated that developing countries lose billions of dollars because of these loopholes.
May has prioritized ending slavery throughout her career. In 2015 she helped craft the Modern Slavery Act and in 2016 she allocated £33 million to fight slavery in the U.K. May believes that to end slavery, global policies need to be instituted, rather than prosecuting individual perpetrators in each country.
The Conservative and Labour Parties do differ, and the U.K. election could certainly have global repercussions. Yet, it’s unlikely that large changes will come soon. Ultimately, the U.K. election may have little impact on foreign aid, as both major Parliamentary parties agree on the big pictures of budget and the Sustainable Development Goals.
– Mary Katherine Crowley