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Nathan Gamester: Andrew Mitchell's case for international aid

Nathan Gamester is a Programme Director at the Legatum Institute.

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 10.01.22Today, in partnership with the Legatum Institute, Andrew Mitchell has published a pamplet, A safer and more prosperous world, laying out his vision for British international development. The pamphlet marks Mitchell’s return to the political stage; his first major intervention since resigning as Chief Whip last October.

Opposition to the Government’s development policy – especially among Conservatives – is well documented. At a time of slow economic recovery and budget cuts right across Whitehall, the commitment to increase spending on overseas aid has never been more controversial.

Many who question this policy ask whether it can be justified when so many Britons are suffering at home. There is often talk of aid cash “sloshing” around the international system only to end up in the pockets of corrupt government officials instead of going to those who actually need it.

To those sceptics, Andrew Mitchell’s message is clear. Firstly, we have a moral duty to help those who cannot help themselves. Secondly, this old view of how aid works is wrong. Aid does work, argues Mitchell. It is not simply about “soft-hearted altruism”. Rather it is about protecting our own national interests and ensuring our own security. And aid gets results.

Mitchell’s pamphlet is a timely reminder of an area of government policy in which British people should take pride. If you are a British taxpayer, then right across the developing world are children who have been vaccinated against a multitude of deadly diseases because of you. Today millions of children are going to school for the first time – because of you. Fewer women are dying in childbirth – because of you. More AIDS sufferers than ever before have access to antiretroviral therapy and are thus living with, rather than dying from, their disease – because of you. British people should be proud of this.

And to those who believe the government spends too much on foreign aid when it should focus on domestic priorities, Mitchell’s pamphlet contains a welcome message: the future of British aid lies not with DFID but in the private sector:

“In my view it is not an unreasonable proposition to suggest that in 50 years’ time CDC [the Government-owned Development Finance Institution] will be seen as the principal British development structure, rather than DFID. Nothing would more eloquently demonstrate the success of development policy as countries graduate from aid with their own equity and debt markets funding their future development.”

On the issue of international development, there is no doubting Mitchell’s expertise. For most of the last decade he has been the chief architect of this area of Conservative policy. He spent five years as shadow development secretary followed by more than two years as Secretary of State until the Prime Minister decided he wanted Mitchell permanently in Westminster as his Chief Whip.

News of his departure from DFID came as a surprise to many (although today’s pamphlet suggests that he has unfinished business with this area of policy). In Government, it can be rare to find senior ministers who feel a strong sense of both calling and enthusiasm for the portfolios to which they have been assigned. Andrew Mitchell, however, seemed well suited to International Development.

It was back in 2009 that the Conservative Party published its comprehensive Green Paper, One World Conservatism in which much of what is now government policy was set out: the focus on wealth creation as the most important driver of development; the recognition that peacekeeping and conflict prevention are fundamental to development; the need to ensure value for money and accountability for every penny spent; and perhaps most controversially, the commitment to increase the UK aid budget to 0.7% of national income.

It is to the Government’s credit that it has stuck to these principles despite the very challenging economic situation and the very real political opposition. This commitment has recently earned praise from Bill Gates who hailed the UK for “displaying moral leadership in front of the world.”
Many people who have served in government can take credit for ensuring Britain keeps its promise to the developing world. But perhaps the most significant of those is Andrew Mitchell. Mitchell has been called many things over the last six months, many of these it now appears were untrue. However, his lasting legacy – and perhaps one of this government’s most significant legacies – will be the commitment that is being shown to the world’s very poorest people.

Nathan Gamester is a Programme Director at the Legatum Institute. Follow Nathan on Twitter.


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