At 5 a.m. on Sunday I will be up and off to New York to take part in 3 days of talks at the United Nations. There I will be joining more than 40 representatives of local government throughout the World and talking about how the UN and its programmes could help local government throughout the world fight ignorance, disease, squalor and famine. I will be the only UK representative at the meeting which arises from my work as the UK representative on UCLG the World local government body.
Many people do not realise the work that the UN and affiliate bodies, such as WHO, UNESCO and UNICEF, do but their work is very important.
They are perhaps seen most often in flash points where they provide armed forces to ‘police’ conflict zones. The blue berets are an internationally respected body which, of course, does not exist. The blue berets are work by the troops of countries that participate in the UIN and come under UN control and command during that period. Because there is no politics to the UN the role of their peacekeepers is usually respected, however over the years many have died trying to keep the world’s peace.
They are most often talked about in crisis times. The Security Council is the one that will ultimately decide whether there is a true legal basis for legal action by external countries. Bush and Blair fought hard to get UBN support for their dodgy decision to invade Iraq. In fact they didn’t really get it but ahd enough to give the pretext of support.
But the real work of the UN is much, much quieter than that. They engage in much behind the scenes diplomacy. They have massive aid programmes in which they bring together coalitions of willing nations to help deal with natural or man-made disasters. Some Countries such as our own are massive contributors to such aid programmes. We can help through the UN in areas where it might be difficult to intervene as a single nation. Often we work with the UN and the Commonwealth to bring aid and succour to areas in desperate need.
Ironically I am writing this at a time when a Bill is being debated in Parliament to set in law the 0.7% of GDP which the UK gives in international aid. I am proud as a Liberal Democrat that it is a Liberal Democrat Bill moved by Michael Moore MP and strongly supported by Liberal Democrat MPs. It is not only a humanitarian thing to do but also a very practical thing for our Country. The friendship we engender by such aid work reaps benefits in our diplomatic and trade work throughout the World.
I am not going to talk war or defence at the UN. I might leave that to my name sake Colonel Richard Kemp, the former Head of the Land Forces in Afghanistan! I am going to talk about how the work that the UN does and tries to do impacts on the delivery of services throughout the World and even in this Country. Many people think that the UN is only about poor countries and doing things for and to those countries. In fact the sorts of things that the UN sets out as long term ambitions and then outputs and outcomes affect what we do in the UK and even in Liverpool more than you might think.
Firstly our aid effort massively takes into account the directions set by the UN. This means that our efforts sit alongside those of other developed countries so that there is coherence and cohesion in work in places like Africa.
Secondly, the EU takes accounts of those directions in setting down targets for social improvement in members countries.’ The Objective One and Objective Two and other programmes can be seen to be part of the UN initiative.
Thirdly those targets and the targets set by our own government trickle down to every council so we too because part of the UN’s drive.
We must never forget that there are people in Liverpool who are hungry, ill housed, ill educated and ill. Not, of course, on the scale of most of sub-Saharan Africa but in terms of relative poverty very poor for our rich nation. It is important therefore that we understand that our effort is part of a national effort, a European effort and a world effort to eradicate these things.
Whilst I am in New York I will be making a presentation not only to the UN Grouping but also to two American local government associations which include Washington, Chicago and New York. That presentation shows forcefully the problems that we have had going back to the 1850s but also showing the solutions that we have come up with over the years. I hope that by going (and even missing a council meeting) I will ebb able to add to the debate. I also hope that I can be part of the diplomatic effort to bring back to trade and commerce to our City from our former colony over the pond!