By Jessica Toale
One of the great legacies of the last Labour Government was the progress achieved, alongside our allies, to prioritise and tackle some of the great global challenges we face. For example, 20-years ago, the United Kingdom – under a Labour Prime Minister – helped to found The Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria. Since then, The Global Fund has gone on to help save 59 million lives around the world.
Why did a Labour Government do this, and so many other things to support the poorest and most vulnerable around the world? In part of course, it was because of a recognition of our moral responsibility as a nation, but it was also because Labour has always recognised that how we work with allies on these great challenges is an important element of how we strengthen relationships with other nations.
Labour has also always understood that many of the challenges we face don’t respect national borders. We see this clearly today with climate change, but we also see it in health security and how unless we work to build strong health systems around the world, we risk our health at home through a global inability to identify and react to emerging challenges.
Sadly, the standing that Britain once had on the global stage has been diminished in recent years as the Conservative Party has stepped back from the responsibilities we once embraced. Nowhere is this clearer than in our support of The Global Fund, with the decision last year to reduce our commitment.
Actions like this demonstrate how important a Labour Government is, not only for the UK but for countries around the world.
It’s also why it’s vital that Labour begin to set out how they would take action to reverse the decline in Britain’s standing around the world – and how they would signal to our global allies that we will once more prioritise working with them to make the world a safer place.
One way that Labour can do this is through a recommitment to meeting the 2030 goal to end the malaria epidemic, set out in the UN SDGs in 2015.
Malaria is one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases. It still kills a child almost every minute. However, it’s also a disease against which we had made incredible progress, thanks in no small part to British funding of bodies like the Global Fund, as well as support for life sciences research here in the UK.
Thankfully the innovation, dedication and ability of our life science researchers remains strong, and in recent years that’s helped lead to innovations like new insecticide-treated bed nets, progress on gene drive technology and the creation of the first malaria vaccines. However, innovations like those don’t happen unless the Government works to create the environment that enables them.
It isn’t too late though. A strong commitment from Labour that they will fully fund multilaterals like the Global Fund, Gavi and Unitaid is an opportunity to send a signal about what the next Labour Government will stand for.
We know that there will be those that say this is all well and good but why prioritise this before an election when the public don’t care? But the truth is the public do care. The public has always been proud of the work we do as a nation to support those who need it, and the public don’t want us to walk away from a job half done. How do we know this? Because the public have told us, in fact in a new campaign from Malaria No More UK we can see this as clearly as ever.
I recognise the voices in this film. They are voices I hear everyday as a Labour candidate. They are proud of British expertise and the transformative role it can play. And they understand our commitment to making the world a better place, even when we face tough times at home.
Now is the time to step up once again and for Labour to take issues like the fight against malaria and use them to demonstrate what a Labour Foreign Policy looks like. One that is compassionate, that recognises the value of working with our global partners, and one that Britain can once again be proud of.
Let’s commit to ending malaria in our generation. Let’s commit to finishing the job started by those Labour Government’s that came before and doing so in a way that reflects who we are today as a nation. A Britain reconnected to the world and ready to play its part.
Jessica is the co-founder and co-chair of Labour foreign policy group. She is also the Labour Candidate for Bournemouth West.