Since 2015, the UK has been legally committed to spending 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance. In a BBC Radio 4 interview this morning, Dominic Raab described it as a “world-beating aid budget” – because, with this macho government, everything must be “world-beating”. The Prime Minister said our NHS was “world-beating” at the start of the coronavirus crisis, before we had to start protecting it by staying at home. Then we were promised a “world-beating” test and trace system by June 1st. We are now told that the app could, if we’re lucky, be ready in the winter. The New York Times has just published a piece, with lots of shameful details, on how our system is “anything but” world-beating.
As Jill Rutter wrote earlier this week, a step towards competence would be to dial down the rhetoric. But bold messaging is what it’s all about for Boris Johnson. While his government tries to wriggle out of preventing child hunger, and fails to get a grip on testing and tracing but unlocks anyway, the Prime Minister wants to proudly boast of ‘global Britain’. In the middle of a pandemic that continues to see hundreds die every day, he announced that a Whitehall restructuring would be a top priority over the coming months as the Department for International Development is set to be merged with the Foreign Office by early September.
Why is this shake-up a pressing matter during a public health crisis? The UK wants to give taxpayers “better bang for their buck”, Raab told the BBC, and the merger would “sharpen our cutting edge in terms of foreign policy”. Doesn’t aid need to follow need? The Prime Minister complained that we give as much aid to Zambia as Ukraine, but the percentage of people living below the poverty line in the former is over 50% and it is around 1% in the latter. “It is, yes, about doing morally the right thing,” Raab managed to reply through gritted teeth, “but also joining that up with what’s in the interests of the UK”.
Luckily our next online event is with Preet Kaur Gill MP, Labour’s international development spokesperson. We will be in conversation from 6pm tonight, discussing all the above and more. Join us on this LabourList page at that time for the live broadcast. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.