Don’t trade off bednets and body armour

17th May, 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 Latest Ashcroft poll shows Labour making ground in England – but facing wipeout in Scotland

    Latest Ashcroft poll shows Labour making ground in England – but facing wipeout in Scotland

    After the Ashcroft constituency poll of Scottish seats exactly a month ago I said that Scottish Labour is going down in flames, and taking Miliband’s chances of a majority with it. Today’s latest Ashcroft poll has done nothing to put out those flames, or suggest Scottish Labour is performing anything other than a catastrophic nosedive. Except now it almost feels like everyone has adjusted to the “new normal” whereby a Labour heartland is now a Labour wasteland. We’ll get back […]

    Read more →
  • News Video Broadcasters to Cameron: Tell us a date you can do for head-to-head debate

    Broadcasters to Cameron: Tell us a date you can do for head-to-head debate

    Broadcasters appear to be losing their patience with David Cameron’s attempts to get out of appearing the pre-election TV debates. It is widely understood that Cameron has been advised by strategist Lynton Crosby not to take part in the leaders’ debates and has been dragging his feet during negotiations, making more debates each time broadcasters make new proposals. Following the initial invitation of UKIP to appear, Cameron claimed that the Green Party should also take part. Now the Greens, SNP […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Tactical voting: unless we are an open tribe, we will die

    Tactical voting: unless we are an open tribe, we will die

    So Compass holds a debate about the relevance, or not, of tactical voting in the run up May and straight away John Spellar MP and then Luke Akehurst are on to us. John accused us of calling on people ‘not to vote Labour”, Luke says we are ‘naïve’. Well first lets be clear: we have set up the space on our website for a debate; we have one article for tactical voting and one against. We wanted to see what […]

    Read more →
  • News Cooper says “slippery” Farage’s immigration speech will increase division

    Cooper says “slippery” Farage’s immigration speech will increase division

    Yvette Cooper has accused Nigel Farage of attempting to exploit concerns about immigration rather than attempting to come up with practical policies. The Shadow Home Secretary also derided UKIP for getting themselves in a “ridiculous tangle” on the issue – last week a spokesperson for the party said they would introduce a net migration target of 50,000, while Farage today claims that it is not party policy. This follows Ed Miliband attacking David Cameron for missing his 2010 immigration promises […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured PMQs Verdict: Nevermind what Cameron said – it’s what he wouldn’t say that matters

    PMQs Verdict: Nevermind what Cameron said – it’s what he wouldn’t say that matters

    There are only three PMQs left until the election. Three more of these turgid, unattractive, unedifying and borderline pointless sessions to sit through before May. If this is the highlight of the Parliamentary week then Parliament can’t prorogue quick enough, frankly. Evidently many MPs feel the same, judging by the wide open spaces on the green benches this lunchtime. After a few minutes MPs had all spaced themselves out a little bit to make the place look a bit less […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit