“ This will cause 100,000 preventable deaths mainly among children” that was the estimate given by former Conservative Minister Andrew Mitchell as he responded to Rishi Sunak’s decision to cut the UK Government’s commitment in law to give 0.7% of our GDP in Foreign Development Aid .
He wasn’t the only Conservative to reflect, the Junior Minister Baroness Sugg expressed her concerns in the traditional and principled way by resigning . Perhaps as Britain’s special envoy for issues relating to girl’s education she knew just how much impact this will have .
Sunak’s explanation was that in these difficult times it was hard to justify the 0.7% level of spending to the British public . Of course he has already “justified” this and got the British Public’s response, it was called a General Election and the Conservatives were expressing a commitment that grew from Conservative leadership and was enshrined in law under David Cameron.
Baroness Sugg said that the decision was fundamentally wrong and undermined the Government’s plans to promote a “ Global Britain .”
The position now is that we will spent to 0.5% of GDP, but that hardly tells the true story. With many nation’s GDP’s shrinking, this represents a cash reduction of catastrophic proportions to people whose lives depend upon it . Organisations, serving those who are vulnerable in ways that are hard for us to imagine, will be wondering how they will make ends meet given that this may well have been their sole “dependable” source of income .
Can we please be clear about two things ?
First this is not an inevitable cost of COVID.
Second this is an entirely predictable outcome of this Conservative Government’s thinking. Not every Conservative Government’s thinking because you will now see representatives of former Tory Governments deprecating this appalling decision.
At a time when borrowing is at a record low and the Government is borrowing stunning amounts not just to fund projects they chose to protect but those where they want to increase spending such as Defence, finding the money is the weakest excuse they have used for some considerable time .
Before someone complains that I am anti Defence, let me say this, the recent commitment to increase spending on Defence doesn’t even come close to mending the dreadful gap in Defence spending that the strategic reviews in 2010 and 2015 created. Waving around noisy and unsubstantiated claims about leadership in cyber security doesn’t stop a bullet for a service man or woman put in harm’s way. Making unsubstantiated claims that we will have the most effective navy in Europe doesn’t explain how we will do that with fewer surface combatants than either France or Italy.
We know the true reasons for this because the verbal incontinence of our Prime Minister all too often gives the game away. He referred to DFID spending as “ A credit card in the Sky .”
In my past I have been CEO of an organisation that received DFID funding and this is a gross misrepresentation of the truth. The case to be funded was tough and externally scrutinised. purse strings were kept tight , due diligence intense, audits were , rightly, tough.
Like another triumph of rhetoric over fact , Brexit, this is conviction politics and let us please see it for that . If you feel this is the right course of action , fine but bring on the facts not the rhetoric or just admit to your views don’t hide behind COVID.
Lord Dannat, former Head of the British Army made the point that “ soft power “ and military power are parts of the same continuum, weaken one and you create complications for the other. He should know .
Increasingly we see a vacuum of commonsense as this Government appeals to its right wing in an attempt to remain relevant in their eyes. Whether you believe it or not, and I really don’t, we are allegedly aiming for a ” Global Britain. “Mr Johnson made it clear in another speech that he could not understand why we were funding Tanzania when we could fund Ukraine . I wonder if he has ever been to either country? I have been to both and I can tell you that anyone who thinks Ukraine will prioritise British influence over that of the EU is deluded.
Possibly it is because we never colonised Ukraine? Perhaps we have a moral duty to those countries whose cultural and political integrity was ripped apart by the Treaty of Berlin as Europe partitioned Africa for its own geopolitical and economic interests and created a focus for conflict for generations?
But let’s drop the tree hugging liberalism here and address naked self interest
Africa , where Britain under the leadership of DFID had significant influence, will see its population double in coming years and with that possibly the world’s last major market developing – highly relevant to British exports. So with the negativity of colonial heritage to negotiate we are going to further offend that market? Or are we going to further delude ourselves that our former subjects consider colonialism as entirely benign?
What we are doing is to create a vacuum for China to fill. Go to Africa and look at the Special Economic and Special Industrial Zones that the Chinese are establishing and there you will see self interest expressed cogently but in a manner that offers tangible benefit to their hosts . Economic imperialism? Perhaps. Clarity of intent? Certainly . Frankly it terrifies me but it it tough to argue that that it lacks logic and impact. Unlike the homage to the knee jerk that seems to inhabit political thinking here at present .
As a disease COVID is possibly not the greatest threat to health in Africa when 1.5 million people already die year in year out across Africa and India from TB, a totally preventable and treatable disease. But the abrogation of our responsibilities to vulnerable communities in Africa and other vulnerable parts of the world using COVID as an excuse to deliver on invective aimed to placate the readers of right wing “ Little Britain “ tabloids is a disgrace that requires exposure.
If we can’t find it in ourselves to be ashamed of what is being done in our names we should be enraged that the Government is ignoring enlightened self interest for a short term political gain .
But it is nearly Christmas, perhaps pop on a Band Aid track and this unpleasantness will all go away .