Conservative Diary

International development

28 Mar 2013 15:13:28

Why Samantha Cameron went to Syria

By Paul Goodman
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Two of the behind-the-scenes players in the Syrian drama are Britain and Russia - Britain, because it is one of most intervention-leaning western countries, and Russia, because it is the Assad regime's main diplomatic backer (Iran excepted).  The possible emergence of a hardline Sunni Islamist government, were the regime to fall, is an important part of their conversation.  Russia argues that this would be a disastrous outcome for the region, that other evils could govern Syria that are even worse than Assad, and that backing the Syrian resistance is therefore unwise.

Britain agrees the appearance of such a government would be alarming and that, were Al Qaeda to have institutional influence in Syria, this would obviously be even more so.  But it disagrees strongly with Russia about how to deal with Assad.  The longer he clings on in government, the Foreign Office argues, the more time Al Qaeda and other extremist elements will have to strengthen their position.  In a nutshell, its case is that all Russia is achieving by helping Assad to cling to power is making the outcome that it fears more likely to happen.

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21 Mar 2013 08:25:30

Cameron can claim three historic moral achievements --- 0.7% spent on aid. 2.7 milion people lifted out of income tax. Gay marriage.

By Tim Montgomerie
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Numbers with union jack1

In my other blog this morning I give the Coalition low marks for its record on deficit reduction. Progress has been dismally slow. Let me celebrate two other things that the Budget delivered, however, and point to three big achievements overall.

First, Britain will become the first major economy to spend 0.7% of national income on international development. I realise that most readers of this website and most voters object to spending more on aid when domestic budgets are so tight but the plight of this nation is nothing compared to the plight of many hundreds of millions of people in parts of the developing world. It's true that some aid is wasted and some goes into the pockets of corrupt officials and politicians. Most, however, puts food in hungry bellies, innoculations in vulnerable bloodstreams and resilience in subsistence farmers' crops. We should be very proud that a Conservative Prime Minister and Chancellor have delivered this commitment and have done so in the teeth of very significant opposition from people who give the impression that our aid budget is much bigger than it is and that incidences of corruption are the norm rather than the exception. Even readers of this website become much more positive about aid when the very specific benefits of it are spelt out. What is vital is that the reforms begun by Andrew Mitchell and maintained by Justine Greening are accelerated. They include greater transparency of the aid budget, redirection of aid to poorer countries, more market-driven aid and streamlining of the DFID bureaucracy.

Continue reading "Cameron can claim three historic moral achievements --- 0.7% spent on aid. 2.7 milion people lifted out of income tax. Gay marriage." »

20 Mar 2013 12:28:25

David Cameron uses PMQs to confirm that he's considering more intervention in Syria

By Tim Montgomerie
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Ed Miliband asked a first set of questions about the banking crisis in Cyprus. Cameron replied by saying that the UK has exempted itself from €urozone rescue deals but, on a general point, he stated that deposit protection schemes should be respected.

Ed Miliband's second set of questions focus on whether the arms embargo to Syria should be lifted. David Cameron replies by saying that the current set of policies are clearly not working and 70,000 people have already died under Assad's "hateful regime". The Labour leader struck a very cautious note, worrying that the situation could be made worse if the arms embargo was lifted. The PM replied that the discussions of EU leaders that he had intended reminded him of the arguments made in the 1990s with regard to Bosnia. The British government - along with France - is clearly tip-toeing towards a more interventionist policy.


David Cameron reaffirmed Britain's commitment to the aid budget. He said that Britain should be proud of its help for the hungriest people of the world. The IF campaign ran the above photo stunt yesterday to urge the Chancellor to maintain aid spending. He has. This year Britain will become the first major economy to hit the UN's 0.7% development target. I am proud that that has happened under a Tory PM and Chancellor.

18 Mar 2013 07:00:00

Hague and Cameron are right to consider arming Syria's rebels but the region's wealthy oil states need to deliver more life-saving aid. And quickly.

By Tim Montgomerie
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William Hague and David Cameron are seriously considering sending arms to help the Syrian opposition in their civil war with the Assad regime. Assad's armed forces are being financed and equipped by Russia and are getting a helping hand from Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The combination of Russia and Iran is a particularly horrible one. Moscow's fingerprints are all over the Grozny-style bombing of Syrian cities that means many of them now resemble 1945 Berlin. Tehran's contribution has been to help brutalise the Syrian regime's anti-insurgency operations. Many prisoners of war aren't detained but are mutilated before being killed.

It is no wonder that, in Mr Hague's words, Syria is producing the world's "biggest human catastrophe of recent years". At least 70,000 people have already died. Four million people are in acute need. More than one million refugees have fled Syria and that flow is accelerating rather than declining. Last week, as a guest of the Save the Children charity, I visited the Zaatari refugee camp on Jordan's border with Syria.

Continue reading "Hague and Cameron are right to consider arming Syria's rebels but the region's wealthy oil states need to deliver more life-saving aid. And quickly." »

26 Feb 2013 06:48:58

Tory Cabinet ministers and Lib Dems have one message for Osborne: Cut the ring fences

By Tim Montgomerie
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ImagesGeorge Osborne is getting a very similar message from his Conservative and Liberal Democrat colleagues: Lift the ringfences.

Liberal Democrats are telling the Chancellor that they won't accept further cuts to welfare if he isn't willing to cut richer pensioners' benefits and, potentially, also "gently trim" the budgets for the NHS, schools and aid. Unlike the Tories, the Lib Dems' 2010 manifesto did not promise to ringfence key Whitehall budgets or the perks paid to better off pensioners.

And from his Right, Tory Cabinet colleagues are also saying that the next round of spending cuts will only be acceptable if the whole of Whitehall shares in the pain. Cabinet ministers like Theresa May feel that she's already achieved the near impossible. She has cut the budgets of the police for the first time ever and without a breakdown in law and order. On the contrary, crime has actually fallen by 10%. Eric Pickles is equally proud of the cuts he has made. Cuts to local government have been frontloaded but there hasn't been a meltdown for Tory councillors at the ballot box. Public opinion polls suggest that voters are seeing through Labour attempts to 'shroud wave' while, for example, maintaining reserves.

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24 Dec 2012 08:46:04

Cameron's Christmas message described "as the most Christian of its kind from an incumbent prime minister"

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen Shot 2012-12-24 at 01.00.18

The Telegraph describes David Cameron's Christmas message "as the most Christian of its kind from an incumbent prime minister". The Daily Mail concludes that Mr Cameron "went further than ever last night when he quoted from the Bible, referring to Jesus as ‘the light of all mankind’ and the ‘Prince of Peace’".

Here is the key section of the message that has aroused reporters' interest and is being interpreted as an attempt to woo Christians offended by the Coalition's plans to introduce gay marriage:

"Christmas also gives us the opportunity to remember the Christmas story – the story about the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope that he brings to the countless millions who follow him. The Gospel of John tells us that in this man was life, and that his life was the light of all mankind, and that he came with grace, truth and love. Indeed, God’s word reminds us that Jesus was the Prince of Peace."

It is certainly more emphatic than the way he described his faith in 2008:

"I believe, you know. I am a sort of typical member of the Church of England. As Boris Johnson once said, his religious faith is a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes. That sums up a lot of people in the Church of England. We are racked with doubts, but sort of fundamentally believe, but don't sort of wear it on our sleeves or make too much of it. I think that is sort of where I am."

Read Mr Cameron's full Christmas message here.

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8 Dec 2012 15:16:10

The developed world may soon be compensating the developing world for climate change

By Matthew Barrett
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At the climate talks currently being conducted in Doha, there is a radical proposal that, it seems possible, may be accepted by many of the major developed countries in the world. The UN talks look like they will conclude with an agreement that developed countries will compensate developing countries for the impact of climate change. 

The principle of compensating the third world has been discussed since 1992's climate talks in Rio, but many industrial Western countries, especially the United States, have resisted such an idea. The US appears ready to consent to it this time, because the wording of the proposal caps compensation payouts by wealthy countries at a nonetheless-eye-watering €100bn a year.

A9g0gOtCAAA1xsOOur man in Doha, Gregory Barker, pictured as part of the British delegation, right, has been keeping followers updated on Twitter. By all accounts, delegates at the Qatari capital's conference centre are extremely tired, and the talks have frustratingly stretched on for longer than expected, having been supposed to have finished last night. It is still unclear what the final outcome of the talks will be, or if the radical plan will finally be adopted, but the signs so far point to definite progress.

The effect of the resultant climate change bill on Britain is not likely to be a happy one; countries have signed up to a further reduction in carbon emissions, which usually means an increase in fuel prices for British consumers, a less competitive atmosphere in which to do business, and so on.

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9 Nov 2012 14:48:34

Justine Greening diverts aid from India to even poorer nations

By Tim Montgomerie
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In her first major announcement as International Development Secretary, Justine Greening has confirmed weekend speculation that all traditional UK aid to India will end by 2015. Up until now India has been the second biggest beneficiary of UK aid - receiving slightly less than Ethiopia (£324m pa) and slightly more than Bangladesh (£219m pa). Beyond then the UK/India development relationship will focus on technical assistance - especially cultivation of pro-private sector infrastructure, development of healthcare systems and support for civil society. This ongoing TA will cost about £30 million per year.

Screen Shot 2012-11-09 at 14.31.03The Daily Mail gave a warm welcome to the news this morning. Critics of the UK aid budget have long complained that India is an emerging superpower which is investing heavily in its own space programme and military. Tory MP Mel Stride recently noted in parliament that there were twice as many billionaires in India than in Britain. In point seven of his recent ten point open letter to her, Lord Ashcroft urged Justine Greening to stop giving aid to richer nations. Why, ask the critics, is cash-strapped Britain borrowing from the likes of China and other international sovereign wealth funds in order to help countries that are enjoying much higher growth rates than us?

The counter-argument from ex-Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was that much of India remains very poor. There are, for example, more people below the global poverty line in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. A third of people living on less than 80 per day live in this hugely populous nation. Aid organisations have said that these poor people shouldn't suffer because the Indian government has chosen the wrong spending priorities. Save the Children has called the cuts "premature". Our own Deep End Editor has wondered whether we should be a little less exercised about the aid budget and a little more exercised by much larger taxpayer subsidies of the banking sector.

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4 Nov 2012 20:02:46

Cut EU spending. Cut aid. Charge for missed appointments. Cap family benefits. Tory members vote for their preferred deficit reduction measures...

By Tim Montgomerie
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In the latest monthly survey of members we asked respondents to describe certain revenue-raising measures as acceptable or unacceptable. I've already reported the verdict on higher council tax bands and a mansion tax but here is the full set of results:

Deficit reduction measure: % saying acceptable / % saying unacceptable

  • A cut in Britain's contribution to the EU: 95% / 4%
  • A reduction in the aid budget: 86% / 13%
  • A charge for every patient who misses an appointment with their GP: 76% / 19%
  • No child benefits for families with more than two children: 75% / 19%
  • Cuts to the benefits that go to wealthier pensioners: 74% / 22%
  • Higher council tax bands on high value properties: 57% / 40%
  • Charges for museums and galleries: 49% / 33%
  • A reduction in the NHS budget: 36% / 58%
  • A reduction in the defence budget: 25% / 72%
  • A 1p increase in the basic rate of income tax: 23% / 75%
  • An annual mansion tax on big homes: 22% / 73%

Continue reading "Cut EU spending. Cut aid. Charge for missed appointments. Cap family benefits. Tory members vote for their preferred deficit reduction measures..." »

30 Sep 2012 08:54:25

Tory backbenchers - and Alan Duncan - push for Cameron to claw back aid money from the European Union

By Matthew Barrett
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There's something going on. In the Sunday Telegraph today, there is an offensive against wasteful spending of British money by the European Union.

This offensive comes in two parts. The first is from the frontbenches: Alan Duncan, the DfID Minister, complains that the European Union "forces" his department to hand over taxpayers’ money and then spends it however it wishes. The second part is from the backbenches: Tory MPs, "in a plan endorsed both by the Fresh Start Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs and the Open Europe think tank" want David Cameron to demand the return of around £4.2billion of funding which the EU plans to spend on poorer countries in Europe.

DUNCAN ALANThe Alan Duncan story is rather good, because it touches, as the Telegraph notes, both foreign aid and Europe, which is bound to excite the right of the party. The complaint Mr Duncan has is that £1.4 billion of DfID’s budget is sent to the EU for its own schemes, many of which are in countries Britain considers no longer worthy of aid, such as Morocco. Mr Duncan says:

"We share the people’s anger on this. We are forced to give money to the European Union. We ask them to focus aid on poverty but they don’t, and we have no choice in the matter."

It comes with some strong words from a "senior Tory":

"Brussels insists it does not “impose” its choice of aid projects on Britain but - in an escalation of hostilities - a senior Conservative separately accused the EU of lying. “If you want an EU lie, this is a classic one,” said the senior Tory. “It is a 100 per cent lie. We have been arguing with the EU whenever we can that the money should have a poverty focus.”"

It also contains plenty of juicy examples of what DfID has been "forced" to spend money on: developing Centre Parcs sites in Morocco, sending Lancashire policemen to Jamaica, spending millions to "prepare Iceland for EU membership", and so on.

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