Everyone tells you that it must be a mixed blessing having the Prime Minister as your local MP. The most powerful politician in the country has so many pressures on their time that their constituency can become neglected. Whether this has been true for past prime ministers, I can’t say. What I do know is that the current PM was very interested when I and other supporters of Practical Action in his constituency wanted to meet him to discuss the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Following the meeting the following message was received from the Prime Minister.
“I want to see a national campaign to put pressure on the UN to keep the 12 newly proposed international development goals, as set out in the 2013 High Level Panel report. These ambitious and measurable goals should succeed the Millennium Development goals when they expire in 2015.
To end poverty we need a new global partnership to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and champion sustainable development. With a sustained and concerted effort, I believe we can end extreme poverty by 2030 – and we are determined to do so.”
This is not to say that organising the meeting was as smooth as it might have been. My first letter to him was in February. This led to the offer of a meeting which was cancelled because of urgent business. Eventually, another date was set. As it came closer, and the newspapers filled up with political crises, I began to worry about opening my emails in case this one had to be cancelled too. But I’m glad to say it went ahead – although the time was changed at short notice.
So, on Friday lunchtime, I and three other long-time supporters of Practical Action, Susy Mundy, Dr Monica Holmes-Siedle and her husband Dr Andrew Holmes-Siedle, found ourselves queuing outside David Cameron’s constituency office in Witney. Suddenly in a blur of Range Rovers and red boxes he appeared and hurried inside. As we were ushered in to meet him he was on the phone, but he immediately broke off and, along with supporters from Oxfam, Unicef and Save the Children, our meeting began. Despite not having a huge amount of time we managed to cover a lot of ground.
We were impressed that David Cameron was clearly well informed about the subject. And we were cheered to hear him express his pride that the UK was the only large developed nation which met the 0.7% of GDP target for its aid and development budget. We left him in no doubt that we all strongly supported his commitment and said how valuable a job we thought he had done co-chairing the UN High Level Panel to draft the new international Sustainable Development Goals to replace those developed for the Millennium.
David talked passionately about the work of the Panel and his personal involvement in drafting its report. These new SDGs, which will be discussed at the United Nations in September, are a carefully balanced set of goals designed to help lift the poorest people in the world out of poverty and enable them to build a more sustainable future. The emphasis is – as it should be – on helping people to help themselves. But too much emphasis on means will probably not deliver the ends, and setting out the ends without the enabling means is a sure recipe for failure. So the balance is crucial.
And it was this balance which we, as supporters of Practical Action, wanted particularly to commend to David Cameron prior to the UN discussions. We came to talk about the importance of energy access for everyone, especially the poorest. It might seem rather boring when compared with ending hunger or eradicating disease. But actually it is a fundamental basis for achieving progress. As Fritz Schumacher said. energy is not just another commodity but the precondition of all commodities. He might equally have asserted that developing energy capacity is not just another development programme but the precondition for all such programmes.
The discussion became quite technical and it was clear that the Prime Minister had an excellent grasp of the issues. We debated the value of smaller scale local energy generation versus bigger power plants and large scale grids. He was concerned that sufficient base-loads could not be guaranteed without larger scale conventional production; we were concerned that conventional grids would never reach those with the greatest need. While we may not have agreed on everything, we left our meeting convinced of the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to the goals developed by his Panel. We hope he left convinced of the strong support from people in his constituency for this continuing drive.
David said that some years ago he had visited Turkana in Kenya -before Practical Action had completed their solar powered water pump project. So we were delighted to present him with a framed photo of the unit in operation to show what can be achieved through this sort of practical action.
He was clearly impressed and as he tweeted after the meeting – it was ‘inspiring to hear about the work’ Practical Action is doing.