Conservative Diary

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We must not (and cannot) balance the budget on the backs of the world's poorest people*

Picture 10 Some stats are repeated so often that they lose their meaning but the fact that 880 million people subsist on less than $1 per day is a fact that should never grow stale in our minds.

It's easy to say that much aid is wasted (and it is) but it's also true that much aid is life changing.

Mike Gerson recently took on some of the anti-all-aid arguments in his Washington Post column.  Gerson helped to engineer the development policies of the Bush administration and the massive improvements that were made in Africa's resistance to malaria and AIDS as a consequence.  He notes that 7% of Zambia's AIDS victims were receiving medication in 2004.  That number will have soared to more than 66% this year because of the generosity of American taxpayers.  That's a massive improvement.  This document from World Vision Australia shows that the world is getting healthier and richer - partly because of aid.

I'm glad that Andrew Mitchell and David Cameron are committed to maintaining UK development spending and to progress towards spending 0.7% of our national income on international aid by the 2013 target.  We could cut our aid budget savagely and make next-to-no contribution to closing Gordon Brown's budget deficit.  The development budget is tiny compared to the NHS, education and welfare budgets.  Aid may be no substitute for free trade but it can make an important contribution to tackling hunger, disease and preventing the failed states of tomorrow that produce terrorism and refugee problems. 

But if the Tories are committed to Britain's aid budget Andrew Mitchell, Shadow International Development Secretary, believes that the current spending could be used more effectively.  In a Green Paper that he launches this morning - entitled One World Conservatism - he sets out ideas to increase the effectiveness of Britain taxpayers' spending:

  • Conservatives will reduce the number of nations in receipt of UK aid money.  The Department for International Development currently spends money in 108 countries.  That must stretch the potential for effective audit and Mr Mitchell proposes a significant refocusing of aid spending and with a bias toward our historical friends in the Commonwealth.  Aid to China will end altogether.
  • Via mobile-based banking services the Conservatives want to deliver aid directly to poor people, so bypassing corrupt governmental bureaucracies.
  • There will be much greater transparency of aid spending.  'One World Conservatism' promises to cut funding for multilateral agencies that fail to demonstrate evidence of results on the ground.
  • DfID staff will be 'immersed' with poor families so that they have a less detached understanding of the challenge of global poverty.  DfID will also be forced to recruit people with more private sector experience as part of a general effort to ensure UK aid supports enterprise in developing nations.

This PDF has more details on the Tory proposals.

There are media reports in The Independent, Guardian, Telegraph and on the BBC website.

Tim Montgomerie

 * With acknowledgements to George W Bush


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