Spencer Pitfield: Over 70% of Conservative Policy Forum respondents say UK has a moral obligation to give aid
I am sometimes asked what is the point of the Conservative Policy Forum. Isn’t it really is just an ‘arm’ of the Party leadership – a sop to Party members by giving them a discussion platform where they can air their views, but nobody, especially the Party Leadership, actually listens? Maybe, these cynics suggest, Member responses come in and are placed directly in a draw at CCHQ, unread by elected colleagues - who anyway live in their ivory-tower Westminster Ministerial bubbles and do and say as they wish. Just what is the point?
Allow me to demonstrate!
Those of us who follow the news will not have missed the constant calls from the press to row back on aid to developing countries. Indeed, many articles have gone much further, saying that aid should be stopped altogether – charity begins at home. Perhaps more importantly in the context of this short piece is the fact that news articles often give the impression that Conservative paid-up members by a considerable majority want an immediate stop to all overseas aid funds.
As might be expected, neither approach is clear-cut. CPF members highlighted a number of caveats to the continuation of aid and these included - amongst others - continuing to sever bilateral aid relationships with the governments of countries that exhibit lower levels of need (especially where assets included high value natural resources); where resources were demonstrably being spent on arms or advanced industrial programmes and where our ability to distribute funds is compromised by corruption or war. Here CPF members wanted swifter action to curtail wasted spending – and quicker action on behalf of Government to identify where such funding should be stopped with immediate effect.
It seems we are pushing at an open door: Justine Greening has already put in place a package of cost control measures, such as lowering the threshold for which projects need ministerial sign-off from £40 million to £5 million and said in her Conference speech that we should focus our efforts on helping countries that are less able to help themselves, and on countries where our work can really speed up economic development.
Members also urged the Government to extend efforts to make aid more transparent and accountable, as well as continuing to focus on our recent national branding efforts for the support we give. This should include a greater flow of information on outcomes and value-added measurements to both Party members, and the country as a whole. Finally, CPF colleagues felt that the Government should consider harnessing high profile formats such as those used by Comic Relief and Dragons’ Den in order to enthuse the public about our efforts overseas.
We look forward to Justine Greening’s Ministerial response, with the knowledge that Party members have a clear view that aid should be continued, but better focused and concentrated to help the most needy in the world today. And with a sense of deep satisfaction that the CPF is proving its own worth – by looking behind bare and simplistic statistics for the principles that drive our Members and should motivate our 2015 manifesto.