Education Secretary praises his Government’s 'truly inspiring' commitment to girls’ education
Two prominent Conservative MPs have celebrated Save the Children’s centenary anniversary and work on international development.
Gavin Williamson MP, the Education Secretary, and Sleaford MP Caroline Johnson spoke at Save the Children’s Centenary reception at Conservative Party Conference.
Both praised Boris Johnson’s commitment to women’s education around the world, with Gavin Williamson terming it “truly inspiring”.
Williamson stated the Prime Minister was committed to helping young women “right across the globe and in some of the most deprived parts of this country.” He said this was “something that is truly inspiring, and something that can make a difference.”
“If we want to break the cycle of poverty… we need to give more than food and assistance and relief aid. And one of the best ways of doing that is through education.”
“By investing in education, in people’s future and giving them the ability to change their lives hopefully there will be a few less children which do need saving,” the Education Secretary said.
Both MPs supported Mr Johnson’s bid to become Conservative Party leader. Caroline Johnson MP also emphasised in her speech that the “education of girls is the Prime Minister’s priority.”
She told the packed room that “we should all be supporting him in that,” and claimed Boris Johnson had “doubled down” on his pledge as Foreign Secretary to ensure girls around the world get 12 years of quality education.
The 0.7% target
Caroline Johnson, a relatively new MP first elected to Parliament in 2016, strongly defended the 0.7% of national income the UK is legally required to put towards the aid budget in her speech.
She lamented that “sadly” constituents would tell her on the doorstep that the rule should be scrapped.
The Education Secretary praised the generosity of the British public, stating “British people are one of the most open hearted and generous nations of any on this earth – and we should take real pride in that”.
However, the aid target has come under increasing political pressure as budget cuts take their toll on Whitehall. In 2018 the UK was one of fewer than 10 countries around the world which met the target, originally adopted by a resolution of the UN General Assembly in 1970.
Dr Johnson used the Ebola crisis to illustrate her point, saying that stopping the disease in developing countries ultimately saved lives in the UK.
“Everybody in the room has a duty to go out and explain why this is the right thing to do, to give this money,” she stated.
Save the Children’s Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director at the organisation, defended the UK’s aid contributions.
McNeill termed the Department for International Development “a credit to our country” and “the foundation of so much of Britain’s soft power”.
Paul Goodman, the Editor of political blog ConservativeHome, pointed out that international aid policies were popular with Conservative Party members when framed in terms of direct support.
Theo Clarke, currently the Chief Executive of the Centre for Global Prosperity, called for the Conservatives in the room to be “proud of our record as a Party, as a compassionate party, which believes in supporting the most vulnerable around the world.”
“We have a huge job to do in selling on the doorstep to the British public and the tax payer, why it is that we are sending money overseas when they can see cuts at home,” she said, in an impassioned speech. Clarke will run to be the Conservative MP for Stafford at the next election.
She outlined her response to criticisms of the 0.7%, stating the UK was a strong nation and “it is in [the] national interest” to commit to the target.
Clarke pointed out that by 2050 the population of Africa was expected to double, and aid was needed to help support this demographic change.
Save the Children’s work
Williamson recalled a trip to see relief work in South Sudan and described his “deep sense of pride” at seeing the difference UK aid made.
He had high praise for Save the Children, terming it “an institution and such a part of our national life.”
Caroline Johnson MP also highlighted her passion for the work of Save the Children, saying “I came into Parliament to do what I can to help children, that is my main reason for being a parliamentarian.”
To the delight of the audience, Save the Children’s Kirsty McNeill closed the events with a rallying cry for Conservative members who supported the UK’s international aid work.
“This evening you have heard from a Conservative Secretary of State, a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, the Editor of ConservativeHome and a Conservative Vice-Chair.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you this is not a mainstream conservative cause,” she argued.
“Evangelise for it. Fight for it. Campaign for it. With pride and with confidence that it is at the centre of your values and the offer you want to make.”