We hope new PM will show courage

Gordon Brown admires courage so much he wrote a book about it.

Gordon Brown admires courage so much he wrote a book about it. His new book of mini-biographies covers people like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, leaders who took enormous personal risks to fight injustice and poverty.

At Oxfam we also recognise and applaud courage. We work with courageous people every day of the year. They're not household names, but ordinary people who need extraordinary bravery just to get through the day: the women of Darfur, the African Aids children, the survivors of the Asian tsunami.

We hope Gordon Brown will display some of the courage of his heroes and the people we work with. What does courage mean for us? For a start, it means Mr Brown keeping his heartfelt promise to spend a tiny bit more of our national income on aid.

At the moment 0.42% of the United Kingdom's budget gets spent on helping fight poverty overseas. We'd like to see our aid budget go up to at least 0.7%: a promise first made in 1970 and repeated by Mr Brown during the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005.

We also want to see the new Prime Minister take leadership to improve health services in the poorest countries, in the way he has led as Chancellor to get new resources for education.

Another concrete step would be to commit significant new money to help poor people adapt to climate change. Yet another would be to pass a new Climate Bill that sets tougher domestic emissions reduction targets than the current ones. These would be the right steps for a politician who wants to be courageous.

Britain's foreign policy also needs to change, and that will need a courageous leader. We have to be more ethical in our foreign policy and willing to work with the United Nations to protect innocent populations who face violence from barbaric leaders.

In Sierra Leone, where a small British force helped bring peace and stability to a war-torn African nation, we did the right thing. In Iraq, our intervention without a UN mandate has been a disaster. During last year's war in Lebanon the British Government refused to call for a ceasefire. Civilians died and the UK's standing in the Middle East plummeted as a result.

Being willing to admit mistakes and learn from them is the sign of a courageous man.

Gordon Brown will have a lot on his plate as he comes into office. But he must make time to tackle the mass poverty, obscene inequality and the threatened environmental collapse that face our planet. Each of these will demand extraordinary courage from political and business leaders over the next 10 years.

But courage is nothing without urgency. We need to act now on helping Africa. Asking Mr Brown to spend a little more on aid sooner rather than later isn't about hitting targets for the sake of it. There are hundreds of thousands of people who need clean water and food right now. Children who aren't in school today will soon grow up to be the illiterate adults of tomorrow. Aids patients need medicines and health staff to keep them alive this year. For them next year could be too late.

Gordon Brown's book on courage is not his first publication. Twenty-one years ago our future Prime Minister published another book about a man of courage and compassion. It was on one of his earliest political heroes, James Maxton, Independent Labour Party MP for Bridgeton between 1946 and 1992 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". Most of us can do a little bit to help banish war, hatred and hunger. As Chancellor, Gordon Brown, showed global leadership in increasing aid and debt relief. As Prime Minister Gordon Brown could do a lot more on the global scene.

It will require dedication, vision and, of course, plenty of courage.

BARBARA STOCKING, Director, Oxfam, Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, Cowley, Oxford OX4 2JY


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