Manufacturing consensus?

Interesting post on Owen Barder’s web-site about “protecting development from party politics“.  I’ve stuck my oar in, with appropriate caution!

Owen is a fellow (if longer term) resident of Addis and his blog is well worth a read. More vocal on aid and politics than mine is …. than mine is at the moment.

Actually, here’s my response to his blog, just in case he doesn’t get a chance to approve my comment very soon.

As someone who thinks in principle that debate about parties’ policies is an important part of effective democratic/ accountable/ legitimate governance, I’ve been itching to respond to this interesting and thought-provoking post. I think there’s a lot to be said about the relationship between different parties’ positions – which may turn out to be more different than what their Green Papers and manifestos say – and ensuring that UK development cooperation is as effective as possible.

However, my temporary status as a UK civil servant should perhaps restrain me, as does Owen’s analysis that (paraphrased, with apologies) acting as if the presumed development consensus is real is the best way of ensuring that a future government remains committed to sensible (?) policies on poverty reduction – although I am not totally persuaded by that analysis.

[I have been playing around with a matrix of real/unreal commitments or consensus, and best guesses about/probabilities of a future government, to consider whether challenging a party on the truthfulness/reality of its stated position is wise or unwise, but have found myself too busy trying to understand Ethiopian politics and ownership to complete my half-baked analysis!]

What I’d really like to see is a response by Kevin Watkins. In his absence, readers might be interested to have a look at Duncan Green’s recent piece on his dream manifesto for development http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/01/from-poverty-to-power/

Owen, do you think that putting forward a dream manifesto is acceptable or does that – and the judgement that is implicit in that about what a good policy and hence (assuming there are policy differences between parties on the issues in the dream manifesto) party position on international development is – put at risk the supposed cross-party consensus?

How much or what type of discussion of parties’ policies on international development is OK? What if someone’s voting decision were shaped by a party’s likely approach to international development? Wouldn’t that then merit some discussion of the likely/possible differences between parties?

Just some thoughts. Sanitized of my party political views. Almost. And with thanks to Owen and Duncan for interesting posts.

PS: I will be interested to see what my former ODI colleagues – a think tank that prides itself on its political neutrality and basing its advice on “evidence” – might have to say about this sort of thing, particularly with a change of government (and major client) in the offing.

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