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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 June 2007, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
Courage call for Brown on poverty
Gordon Brown, in his recently published collection of mini-biographies, highlighted his respect for courage with portrayals of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy among others.

Judith Robertson, head of Oxfam in Scotland, urges the new prime minister to ensure he shows plenty of his own when it comes to foreign policy and fighting poverty.

Judith Robertson (Pic supplied by Oxfam)

Oxfam works with and for people of courage every single day of the year - not household names but ordinary people showing extraordinary courage out of necessity and the need to survive.

Be it the women of Darfur who every day show courage by leaving the relative safety of displaced persons camps to gather firewood for the evening meal despite risk of attack, or the courage of the survivors of sudden disasters like the Asian tsunami of December 2004 or the courage of children as young as 10 or 11 in countries in sub-Saharan Africa who struggle to bring up their siblings after the death of their parents through Aids.

Will Mr Brown display the political courage of his recent biographical subjects?

Courage that can assist the millions of courageous survivors across the developing world who he can do so much to help, if he so desires.

In this context I mean courage to put in place the policies that match his clearly heart-felt rhetoric on Africa.

Courage to keep the UK's promises on aid, especially that we spend 0.7% of wealth on aid, a promise made in 1970.

Harold Wilson, Labour PM in the first half of that year, famously said that "a week is a long time in politics" and, for those awaiting the UK to meet the 0.7% promise, 37 years is a very long time (and the current life expectancy in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi).

Dereliction of duty

Courage to take robust steps, and the sometimes unpopular decisions, to tackle climate change and to help the poorest countries adapt to it, for it is the poorest, and least responsible, who are going to be (and in some cases already are) hit hardest by climate change.

And courage to set the UK's foreign policy on a much more ethical direction than of late, but also one that intervenes in crisis when humanity requires it. Sierra Leone is a good example, Lebanon and Iraq the opposite.

It would be understandable, but not forgivable, if our new prime minister were to just focus his attentions on the domestic agenda when he takes office.

After all some would say his predecessor spent too much time on the foreign agenda, and still others that with the prospect of a tighter general election ahead domestic issues should take precedence.

To do that would be a dereliction of duty, would ignore the huge public support for action on global poverty and the astronomical need in developing countries.

In short it would be the opposite of courage. I don't believe that Gordon Brown will take that course, but I warn him against it none-the-less.

Vital role

But as well as courage I would like Mr Brown to show urgency where Africa is concerned, to bring forward the date for meeting the 0.7% aid target, to empathise with the hundreds of thousands of people for whom his current target of 2013 will be too late.

Those who need food and clean water now, who need anti-retrovirals and health staff to deliver them and who want to be in school now.

And perhaps it is his other vital role, that of father, which will give him the impetus to act with urgency, given that so many of those living in and dying of poverty across the world are children.

His book on courage is not Gordon Brown's first publication, far from it.

Some 21 years ago, he published another book about a man of courage and compassion.

It was on one of his earliest political heroes, James Maxton, the independent Labour Party MP for Bridgeton between 1992 and 1946 and someone who, in his day, was also tipped to become PM.

Speaking at a conference just after World War II, Maxton said: "human courage could banish war, hatred and hunger."

Maxton was correct and Gordon Brown should take those words of his hero to heart, must show courage in his foreign policy and show not just courage, but also urgency.

In the dying days of Tony Blair's premiership, there was much talk of what his legacy was.

Courage and urgency in tackling global poverty and in saving millions of lives as a result could be our new prime minister's legacy, if he so desires.





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