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Andrew Mitchell: We can end global poverty

MITCHELL ANDREW NW Earlier today, for International Development Day, David Cameron visited Islamic Relief. In this Platform article, Andrew Mitchell, Conservative International Development Spokesman, sets out a clear, bold vision for a Conservative government: a world free from poverty.

Sometimes in politics – even amidst the frantic pace of an election campaign - you have to stand back and think big.

Forget the daily whirl of headlines, meetings and briefings, and focus on the issues that sometimes get lost among the noise.

Today, the International Development Day of the election campaign, is a time for politicians of all parties to do that – to set out the steps we will take to tackle killer diseases around the world, get children into school, and to help make poverty history.

Times are tight in the UK. My Party has been candid about the scale of the changes we’ll make to restore fiscal sanity and tackle Labour’s debt crisis. But it is when times are toughest that our deepest values shine through.

David Cameron and the Conservative Party are determined that we won’t let the poorest pay the price for Labour’s economic incompetence. That’s why we’ve ring-fenced the NHS budget. That’s why we’ve made clear that our public sector pay freeze will not apply to the million poorest workers. And that’s why we’ve pledged to increase life-saving international aid to 0.7% of national income by 2013 – and to legislate to lock-in that level of spending going forward.

We will not balance the books on the backs of the poorest – at home or abroad. This is the right thing to do. It’s simply absurd that during today, in the year 2010, 30,000 children will die from easily-preventable diseases like diarrhea.

Well-spent British aid will save millions of lives in the years ahead. Aid has helped to eradicate smallpox, reduce polio cases from 350,000 a year in 1988 to just 1,500 last year, and to increase the number of people on vital anti-Aids drugs from 400,000 in 2003 to more than 4 million in 2008.

Every British taxpayer can be proud of this, and we will do more of it.  And tackling poverty is also firmly in our national interest.  If we want to find a more resilient solution to terrorism and failed states, stem the flow of economic migrants to our shores and tackle the scourge of the drugs trade and cross-border crime, we must promote development and security around the world.

This is a practical as much as a moral imperative. In this spirit, I’m glad that Labour share our commitment to tackle global poverty, and I hope that today the Liberal Democrats will be able to clarify whether they, too, support increasing aid. They say they do - but their Treasury Spokesman, Vince Cable, is clear that they will not ring-fence the aid budget from cuts. I hope their confusion can be cleared up today, because for me the cross-party consensus on this issue says something profound about what kind of a nation Britain is in the 21st Century: generous, progressive, optimistic.

By taking the debate over the level of aid funding out of party politics, the focus will move to which party has the vision and the determination to get maximum value for money in aid. This is where the Conservative Party can lead. Getting value for public money is hard-wired into our DNA. Our bargain with taxpayers is this: in return for contributing your hard-earned money to helping the world’s poorest people, it is our duty to spend every penny of aid effectively.

So we will be completely transparent about the cost and performance of British aid programmes by independently evaluating programmes and by introducing, where appropriate, payment by results.

We will ensure aid money is properly spent by publishing full details of British aid on the internet – so taxpayers, and people in developing countries, can hold us to account for delivering what we’ve promised. Under Labour, our aid funding is not used in a focused way, and is sometimes spent in countries that should be looking after their own poor citizens.

So we will stop giving aid to China and Russia and review which other countries should get British aid. We will focus more on the poorest, paying particular attention to development within the Commonwealth. Development is about so much more than just aid. So the Department for International Development should work closely with other UK government departments whose policies impinge on poverty around the world. Trade, environmental policy, migration, defence, national security, health recruitment, development education for UK students, corporate responsibility: DFID must take the lead in articulating how policies in these areas affect people in developing countries.

This will make our poverty reduction efforts exponentially more effective: for example, why have a single Department lobbying for more open markets with developing countries, when you can have the full weight of the British government pushing for it? The offer of the modern, progressive Conservative Party on international development is to combine generosity with a tough approach to getting value for money. Optimism is at the heart of our politics. And this is our generation’s opportunity to save and improve the lives of millions of our fellow human beings, and to build a safer, more prosperous world for Britain.


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