So what happens to the aid budget in an "age of austerity"?

Harriet Harman is right to draw our attention to the coalition's approach to development spending.

It wasn't just the NHS budget that the Cameroons pledged to ringfence and protect in opposition, as part of their failed "detoxification" and rebranding of the Conservative Party between 2005 and 2010. The aid budget, we were told, would be protected too - Bono appeared via video link at the Tories' annual conference in 2009 to heap praise on Cameron and co for signing up to the 0.7 per cent pledge.

But let's be honest: the aid budget isn't an issue that tends to be at the top of politicians' or journalists' priority lists. It can be so easily overlooked, forgotten and/or ignored.

So yesterday, in a speech at the London School of Economics, Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, who is also the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, was right to flag up the "fragile" nature of the Conservatives' pledge on international aid and the need for a Labour-led grassroots campaign to keep up pressure on the coalition to deliver for the developing world:

With the Tory Party commitment to the 0.7 per cent being fragile , with the opposition from within their own ranks so virulent, with growing public anger about the effect of the cuts on domestic priorities, alongside a strong public belief that "charity begins at home", no-one should take it for granted that the Tories will inevitably deliver on their pledge. The fact that the two parties of the coalition government and the official opposition all agree on this target should not lull anyone into a false sense of security that its achievement is a foregone conclusion.

So, we cannot simply wait for the pledge to be honoured, we must remake our arguments for it. It is time for "a Keep the 0.7per cent / 2013 promise" campaign. We are launching it next week. I am sure that we can look to young people, the churches, the aid agencies and our diaspora communities to support such a campaign - as they did so much to campaign for the original promise and so strongly backed the actions our government took to increase aid and drop debt.

She went on to make this rather important if depressing observation:

Despite the government's commitment to UK aid reaching 0.7per cent of GNI by 2013, the Spending Review Statement of last October froze the aid budget as a percentage of GNI for the next 2 years.

The cost of this 2 year freeze - instead of continuing the upward trend we established - is £2.2 billion which would otherwise have been available in development aid.

...Abandoning the steady progress towards the 2013 target, instead of building on the progress that was made when we were in government will require a big jump in the aid budget in 2 years time. Following the 2 year aid freeze, to meet their promised target by 2013, they will need to boost the aid budget by 31% in a single year - an increase of approximately £3billion - in 2013.

Does anyone - apart from perhaps Steve Hilton - really believe that's going to happen in the run-up to 2013?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.