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Aid in a cold climate

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-04-04 at 05.04.04Until fairly recently, Select Committee enquiries were a courtly and decorous business, and reports were written and presented in a style of headline-defying narcolepsy.  Then culture change came, and they started to be - surprisingly often - sexed up.  John (now Lord) McFall hauled credit card company bosses before the Treasury Select Committee, when he chaired it during the last Parliament, to be scragged over usurious interest rates.  Keith Vaz was furthering the new ethos during this one when he summoned Russell Brand to give evidence about drug abuse.

And now we have Sir Malcolm Bruce, whose International Development Select Committee today publishes a report saying that Pakistan's elite doesn't pay its taxes, so British aid to the country shouldn't rise - in future, that is, if they don't pull their socks up: "We cannot advocate that the British people finance, through their own taxes, the proposed substantial increase in development assistance to Pakistan unless this wealthy minority demonstrates much keener interest in improving conditions for all," he writes in today's Daily Telegraph (£).  (See also the Times's spash.)

Sir Malcolm's logic invites probing.  If Pakistan is so corrupt (and relatively well-off, as the Times points out), why give it aid at all?  And if we are to slash aid in response to the misconduct of criminal elites, why stop at - rather than start with - Pakistan?  At one level, his committee's report looks like a venture to grab attention during Easter week.  At another, it is a sign of change in the political landscape. The austerity revolution has shaken MPs expenses, local government, "aggressive" tax avoidance and (as we're seeing this week) the welfare system.

I suspect it is coming soon to an aid charity near you.  Although I broadly share Tim Montgomerie's view on aid, I've tended not to write much about the subject to date.  I will look broadly at it soon but, for the moment, want to stick to a narrow point - namely, that this chill spring is also a cold climate for international development.  Were I one of the bigger aid charities or ventures, I would be looking very closely at my budget and spending, before Fleet Street gets there first.


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