Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


Views from the Center


A BBC headline summed it up: ‘UK Conservatives in shock election victory’. Every opinion poll beforehand assured us of another five years of coalition government, with forecasters split on who would be Prime Minister. No-one expected the final result: that the incumbent David Cameron would lead his Conservative party to an outright win, securing a majority of seats in Parliament and a mandate in his own right.  

As the UK settles into this unexpected reality, what does a new Conservative-only government promise for development?

We looked back at Mr. Cameron’s actual promises – his election manifesto promises – to remind ourselves and you of the pledges the Conservatives made to voters. Encouragingly, development pledges featured in all the major parties’ platforms. But many forgot that development is not just about aid– there are several other areas of government policy that have consequences for developing countries.  And nor is development about people in rich countries making sacrifices for the global poor. There are plenty of policy tweaks that offer a win-win for rich and poor nations alike.

CGD’s Commitment to Development Index ranks countries according to their performance on seven indicators that affect development – aid, trade, finance, migration, environment, security and technology. Every year the UK does pretty well in the annual country rankings. We’ve gone back to the Conservative Party's election manifesto to see what they promised in these areas and how that stacks up for developing countries.

Aid: The manifesto reminds us that the Conservative-led Coalition enshrined in law a commitment to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid (p78-79). It promises to maintain the UK’s development agency DFID as an independent Ministry (unlike USAID, whose budget still goes through the State Department), it commits to keeping aid untied (again, unlike the US), to focus on developing new vaccines, and to expanding payment by results (which echoes CGD’s work on cash-on-delivery aid and is something we definitely like the sound of). But Mr. Cameron also says that he will ensure all money given to foreign governments is ‘clearly earmarked for specific purposes’, which suggests recipient governments will have less say in where best to spend aid money.

Trade: We agree with the Conservative manifesto’s point that ‘the route out of poverty is about much more than just aid’ but we’d like to know more about its promise to ‘boost growth and jobs, making it easier for people to start up businesses and trade freely with each other.’ The new government says it will push for freer global trade, including a trade deal with India. But its focus here is on expanding British exports – what about Indian exports? 

Finance: Helping to increase tax revenue in developing countries boosts those countries’ own finances, so it’s good that the new UK government has promised to ‘ensure developing countries have full access to global automatic tax information exchange systems and continue to build the capacity of tax authorities in developing countries’ (p11). The manifesto also commits to helping British people give or lend money directly to people around the world.

Migration: CGD has done much work on the benefits of more open migration policies, both for sending and receiving countries. But limiting immigration to the UK has been a major theme of this election – the Conservative manifesto contains a whole section on it entitled ‘controlled immigration that benefits Britain’ including a commitment to an immigration cap. Mr Cameron also promised to give British people an in/out referendum on continued membership of the EU (and he reiterated that promise in his victory speech). How would withdrawal from the EU affect the free movement of people between countries? What would limited migration policies mean for people in developing countries seeking a better life?

Environment: The Conservatives have ditched their party logo of a green tree in favor of a tree-shaped Union Jack. And the manifesto also takes a much more UK-centric view of environmental issues than the wider perspective that acknowledges that a healthy environment is a global public good. The Conservatives’ focus remains on energy security through, among others, the expansion of shale gas. There’s also a dose of NIMBYism with a pledge to give local communities the final say on onshore wind farms, despite the role they can play in renewable energy. At least there’s a briefly-stated but potentially hugely valuable commitment to global carbon emissions goals.

Security: There’s no mention in the Conservative manifesto of ending arms exports to poor or undemocratic countries, though these exports (including to countries on the UK’s own human rights blacklist) undermine development and fuel conflict.

Technology: Similarly, no Conservative promise to enable the transfer of knowledge to developing countries that can help raise productivity and welfare. Mr. Cameron is not alone here – few rich country governments see sharing intellectual property rights as anything other than a challenge, despite their commitments to do this under international trade agreements.

In the coming months we will be checking to see whether the new government sticks to its promises. And very soon my colleagues at CGD Europe in London will follow up with ideas on what the new UK government could do differently or better to help developing countries – and help Britain too.

The UK has does well in CGD’s annual CDI ranking of countries and David Cameron has shown a commitment to development – including co-chairing the UN High Level Panel that established the framework for the Sustainable Development Goals. Now he has a chance to use the mandate his Parliamentary majority implies to demonstrate even greater leadership.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.