Don’t trade off bednets and body armour

May 17, 2011 12:12 pm

Liam FoxBy Richard Darlington

Letters from Liam Fox to David Cameron have an uncanny habit of leaking. Last time, the leaked letter was about cuts to the defence budget at the time of the Strategic Defence Review. This time, the letter is about an increase in the international aid budget(£) or rather, as the Defence Secretary’s spokesman told reporters when the news broke last night, “how best to reflect the 0.7% target in law”.

In his last letter, Fox told Cameron that if the SDR “continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years”. For a politician so concerned with his leader’s reputation and political capital, he must realise that adopting the 0.7% target was a key element of Cameron’s detoxification strategy in opposition and the winning of support from NGOs like Save the Children. Given the reputation of the ‘nasty party’, Labour constantly challenged the Tories to prove this commitment. Douglas Alexander’s 2009 DFID White Paper confirmed that Labour would legislate to enshrine the commitment in law in, an announcement made by Gordon Brown in his last party conference speech as Prime Minister. The Lib Dems had no problem welcoming the move but for their detoxification strategy to hold, the Conservatives had to match Labour in their manifesto.

Looking back at page 117 of the Conservative manifesto, the commitment is clear:

“A new Conservative government will be fully committed to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income as aid. We will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid. We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.”

Liam Fox obviously missed the meeting about this because now he says that his “preferred way ahead” is to put “into statute recognition of the target and a commitment to an annual report against it”. Almost as worrying, he also claims that the OECD rules defining what spending counts as ODA (overseas development aid) will prevent his department raiding the ‘Conflict Pool’ (the fund for peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction). He wants to legislate for an annual report (the budget maybe?) in which the government can report that they can’t meet their international commitment to the world’s poorest people and they can’t keep their promise to the voters of Britain.

The last time they were in office, the Conservatives halved the aid budget. Labour trebled it. Aid spending is now 0.59%. In cash terms, the amount at issue here is a rise of £3.9bn, to meet the 0.7% commitment by 2013. Consider this against the Core Defence budget for 2009/10 of £35.4bn and of £36.9 bn for 2010/11, remembering that this does not include operational commitments in Afghanistan or the no-fly zone over Libya.

As well as lifting 3 million people out of poverty every year, building schools and saving the lives of women and children in the poorest countries in the world, much of the international aid budget is spent on upstream conflict prevention. The aid budget is not British taxpayers money that is given away, it is an investment in a safer and more stable world.

Fox’s position will not be unpopular with Tory MPs, as just 4% of them told Conservative Home before the election that international development should be immune from cuts. Perhaps these are the political consequences he is most concerned with. To dog whistle a trade-off between bednets and body armour is not just immoral but also ignores the work that the aid budget does in protecting Britain’s national interests.

Richard Darlington was Special Adviser at DFID 2009-2010 and is now Head of News at ippr

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Featured Try to imagine for a moment that you are Jeremy Hunt

    Try to imagine for a moment that you are Jeremy Hunt

    It may be an uncomfortable exercise, but brace yourself and try to imagine for a moment that you are Jeremy Hunt. Now, in your new role ensconced behind a desk at the Department for Health, it’s not difficult to imagine the huge pressures that are heaped on your shoulders at the moment. The English NHS is undergoing the worst year in A&E for a decade, with almost a million people waiting over 4 hours, elderly care is in crisis as […]

    Read more →
  • News Wales Mass Exodus? Figures show number of Welsh NHS patients using English NHS is FALLING since 2010

    Mass Exodus? Figures show number of Welsh NHS patients using English NHS is FALLING since 2010

    The Tories have been trying to use the Welsh NHS as a stick with which to beat the Labour Party, so it wasn’t too surprising to see the Daily Mail parroting Tory attack lines today with this front page splash: Now if you look beyond the (largely anecdotal) stories and carefully selected numbers in Daily Mail piece and look at the complete figures (available here) – they reveal that the number of Welsh patients using the NHS in England is actually falling. Here’s how […]

    Read more →
  • Comment No child should live in danger. Now is the time to end violence against children

    No child should live in danger. Now is the time to end violence against children

    Every five minutes somewhere in the world a child dies as a result of violence. These tragic deaths are not just confined to the war zones that dominate the news. Too often they happen when children should be safe –at home, at school or in the communities where they live. Today’s new report by Unicef UK outlines how violence is now a leading cause of serious injury and death among children. In Bangladesh, more than 20 per cent of girls […]

    Read more →
  • Europe News How would an EU referendum pledge affect Labour’s support?

    How would an EU referendum pledge affect Labour’s support?

    A poll conducted for the Daily Mirror by ComRes has found that most Labour-leaning voters aren’t bothered whether or not the party pledges to have an EU referendum. The poll saw 2,000 Labour-leaning people asked how the party’s stance on an EU referendum would affect their voting intention. 13% said it would make them more likely to vote Labour, while 7% said they would be less likely to do so. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most people (67%) said that an EU referendum […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour’s London Primary must be as accessible as possible

    Labour’s London Primary must be as accessible as possible

    The two-party system is on the way out. If there is a political lesson from the last two months, then that is it. The SNP’s popularity in Scotland and the rising stock of UKIP south of the border tell a clear story of people fed up with politics as usual. They are sick of the tribalism, bored of the politicking, tired of trying to work out who stands for what. They want something different: to be treated honestly, listened to, […]

    Read more →
7ads6x98y