Last Thursday over a thousand people travelled to Westminster to make the case for international aid and development to their local MPs.
At a time when things are tough at home and aid scepticism is gaining ground, Tea Time for Change provided the perfect opportunity for constituents to speak out in support of the UK’s international aid commitments and united a wide group of NGOs.
After a glowing recommendation in the House of Commons at International Development Questions the day before, 131 MPs from all major parties made the short walk across the road to Westminster Central Hall to meet with tea-time changers.
Tea and cakes
Taking part in the great British tradition of putting the world to rights over a cup of tea and piece of cake, MPs and campaigners discussed, among many things: legislation to legally enforce the 0.7% of gross national income aid target, corporate transparency and innovative financing. It was democracy in action!
The feedback from MPs was overwhelmingly positive and, crucially, each member left knowing that their own constituents (and the broader British public) really are behind the UK’s aid commitments to the developing world.
In addition to the numerous comments we received on the day here are just a couple of reactions from MPs
Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East met one of our campaigners from his constituency, he shared a photo on twitter later that afternoon saying: ‘Honour to meet constituent Peter Chegge. Nairobi street child “rescued” by save the children, worked for the UN’
Therese Coffey, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal tweeted a picture of herself drinking tea and debating the issues with campaigner Coaralie Frost.
Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, new MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, tweeted: ‘Brill mtg Alison & Carole @ Tea time for change lobby. Promised to keep up pressure on aid, exposing tax avoidance & for Robin Hood tax.’
The key issue now is to follow up with MPs at a constituency level, reiterating our messages and urging them to take the actions they have committed to.
Local MPs are crucial to the defence of aid agenda in the UK; we need them to help us win the argument on effective aid in Westminster and beyond
A true sign of a successful event has to be attempted sabotage and true to form right wing political blogger and general mischief maker, Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, decided to stir things up by crashing the start of the party.
With an accomplice dressed as a spaceman (a reference to India’s space programme), his protest and following blog/twitter rant inaccurately reported that the lobby was calling for UK aid levels to be increased to 1%.
The stunt was most amusing and brought a certain air of drama to the start of the day
The rest of the day proved to be less dramatic but rather more impactful.
International development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, opened the lobby with a stirring speech to the 1000 or so campaigners who gathered in the central hall.
The day was then closed by shadow international development secretary, Harriet Harman, also lending her support to the lobby.
Defence of Aid
Save the Children headed up the Aid Room, which was well attended by campaigners despite being a little tricky to find!
People were very inquisitive and engaged, there were some particularly interesting questions/discussions during the Defence of Aid master class.
Some of the topics covered included aid to middle income countries; Britain’s historical legacy and what that means for the allocation of our aid budget.
We also learnt how the public can refute the arguments of aid sceptics, and how can we help countries to graduate off aid and aid exit strategies.
The discussions sparked interest in the nitty gritty of aid with many campaigners taking away further reading and asking how they might engage on these issues after the event
Walking around the lobby meetings made for an inspiring sight; it was great to see campaigners having meaningful and constructive conversations with their parliamentary representatives about the issues they care about.
This blog was a jointly written with Jess Espey, who headed up the Aid Room as an ‘aid expert’ at Tea Time for Change.