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

  • News Timetable for London Mayoral selection confirmed

    Timetable for London Mayoral selection confirmed

    The timetable for Labour’s Mayoral selection ‘primary’ has been confirmed by the party this week. Following the party’s special conference and Collins Review this year, it was agreed that the selection would be open to party members, registered supporters and affiliates who have opted-in to membership, and will take place in the immediate aftermath of the general election. The timetable is as follows: Applications open: May 18th Applications close: May 25th Nominations (from CLPs, affiliates): received by June 15th Applications for the […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Polling Scotland New Scotland poll shows Labour trailing SNP by 29 points

    New Scotland poll shows Labour trailing SNP by 29 points

    Labour would face an electoral massacre in Scotland if the general election was held tomorrow, according to a new poll. Tracking the voting intention for Westminster seats among the Scottish public, the poll indicates that support for Labour is 19% points lower than it was at the 2010 election – meaning our support has roughly halved. The poll, carried out by Ipsos-MORI for STV, found support stands at: SNP 52%, Labour 23%, Tories 10%, Lib Dems 6%, Greens 6%, UKIP […]

    Read more →
  • News Blair: We should not chase after UKIP on immigration

    Blair: We should not chase after UKIP on immigration

    Tony Blair has warned the Labour Party not to give in to UKIP’s arguments on immigration, saying that the party has a “nasty core of prejudice”. In an interview with Progress, Blair says Labour should be take the line that UKIP are wrong: “Let’s be clear: We don’t think that UKIP’s right, not on immigration and not on Europe – so the first thing you’ve got to be really careful of doing is … saying things that suggest that they’re kind […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Murphy makes unity candidate pitch as Unite prepare to endorse Findlay

    Murphy makes unity candidate pitch as Unite prepare to endorse Findlay

    There are two interviews with Scottish Labour leader candidates in this morning’s papers. Jim Murphy launches his campaign by talking to the Daily Record (the same paper Johann Lamont did her resignation interview with last week), while Neil Findlay has a short conversation with the Morning Star. Murphy builds on the statement he made last night (“I’m applying for the job of First Minister”) by claiming he wants “to bring the country back together after the referendum.” He said: “I […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Brand or bland? Are these really my choices?

    Brand or bland? Are these really my choices?

    Russell Brand has a book out and a great publicist. His diagnosis of our current malaise is pretty spot on. His solutions however are woolly headed at best and inconsistent at worst. But Russell Brand is being taken seriously. He’s never off Newsnight nor out of the pages of the Guardian. People are flocking to follow him in their thousands. He is Che Guevara for the scripted reality generation. The established left simply don’t know what to make of this. […]

    Read more →