High hopes for world aid in any parliament

Mary Creagh.
Mary Creagh.
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Mary Creagh has already won her number one aim in international affairs, and that was in opposition.

The shadow International Development Secretary led Labour efforts to scupper a backbench Tory rebellion which would have killed off the Prime Minister’s promise to commit the UK to a minimum 0.7 per cent foreign aid budget.

Mary Creagh

Mary Creagh

As Mrs Creagh, seeking to be returned as the Wakefield MP, points out, getting that law passed would have been impossible without Labour support.

Has this prepared her for the difficulties that will face whoever forms the next government? The polls suggest the future is minority or coalition government, though politicians are curiously reluctant to admit his.

The unwritten rules for candidates in this General Election are clear. Do not admit there could be a coalition. Do not admit you might have to form a minority Government. Always insist you are seeking a majority.

And Mrs Creagh does a very good job of sticking to that. But in a moment of typical down to earth honesty, she set out why she thinks the party can cope without the SNP.

After first insisting “Labour is seeking a majority”, she said her experience as a party whip in the last Labour government coupled with her time winning votes in opposition mean she is hopeful that Labour can get things done if it is returned with the largest number of MPs after May 7.

Mrs Creagh told The Yorkshire Post: “The Tory whips office isn’t always that great at getting their people out to vote.

“Look at the critical vote on Syria, where the Secretary of State for International Development failed to show up even though she was in the building.

“The next Government will come down to organisation and I think we will find that Labour, certainly in the election, we are out-organising the Tories, and I think we will carry that through to Government.

“I was in the whips office for a year and a half, we had a majority of 60, sometimes it was quite close, you just have to put the work in and get the people there, but yeah, whatever happens it will be interesting.”

She added: “We are planning and hoping for a Labour majority government, but we are not taking anything for granted. I think though that the momentum is with us. Some of the stretch seats that were on our target list are looking doable and winnable in places across the country, and that is very positive.”

Her role on the Labour benches has seen her defend the party’s commitment to foreign aid in the face of outspoken opposition, especially from Ukip.

“I’m proud of that historic achievement,” she said. “It is less than one per cent of our country’s budget, we are the seventh richest country in the world.

“We know that climate change will effect millions of people in the years ahead, we saw with Ebola how a disease can jump from country to country, so it is in our national interest to make sure that we prevent diseases, that we tackle climate change.

“We can only do that as a strong country confident and outward looking.”

Fighting Ukip is a cause that rallies any labour party member, especially after party leader Nigel Farage’s recent call for HIV positive people to be banned from entering the UK.

“It was just vile,” Mrs Creagh said when asked about the Ukip policy.

“I think it is the nastiest type of dog whistle politics. It is the same mythology that was used against the Jewish population, the Irish population, the Bangladeshi and Pakistani population when they came here. I just think it is totally wrong.

“Nationalism is never the answer to the issue which challenge us, whether it is the Ukip brand of it or the SNP’s brand of nationalism, we are stronger together.”

In order to have a role in fighting those policies, Mrs Creagh first needs to win in West Yorkshire, the region which has hosted the election battlefield as far as the North is concerned.

In Wakefield, where Mrs Creagh defends a 1,613 majority, the election battle has been helped by a Tory party seemingly committed to a defensive campaign.

She said: “ What we have seen this campaign is that the Tories have given up on trying to take seats like this one.

“In Dewsbury, Keighley, Pudsey, we are getting 20/30/40 people out with us on a daily basis. The Tories are spending thousands and thousands of pounds on leaflets but they cannot muster the people to go and do the door knocking.”

Mrs Creagh may soon find all that support only hands her a very tough job in a very tough parliament. On the evidence so far, she would quite possibly relish this.