An important intervention in the aid debate

A new report by the ONE campaign shows how the UK aid budget will make a difference.

A new report by the ONE campaign shows how the UK aid budget will make a difference.

Today the ONE campaign has published a report that calculates what the UK international aid budget will actually be able to achieve between now and the next election. It is an incredibly important but also very clever interjection into the debate on overseas aid which continues to rage, despite the political consensus at the last election.

All three parties committed to meet the UN target of 0.7 per cent by 2013 in their manifestos, but the Conservatives went even further. Following Gordon Brown's announcement at Labour's 2009 party conference that Labour would legislate to make the commitment a legally binding target, the Conservative manifesto raised the stakes, declaring, on page 117:

A new Conservative government will be fully committed to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income as aid. We will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid. We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.

Despite this being one of the longest ever sessions of Parliament, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has told journalists that there is no time for the legislation. So the ONE campaign has cleverly turned the debate from input - £8.6bn of your taxes - into outputs.

On the same day as the former Security Minister Lord West tells the Daily Telegraph that our aid budget should be cut in order to reinvest in the Royal Navy, the ONE campaign show us what your taxes can achieve. Lord West says he is "horrified our naval flotilla now comprises only 19 frigates and destroyers". But ONE's report reminds us of the horrifying fact that 50 million women around the world give birth outside of a health facility and without the support of a midwife or health worker.

On the same day we learn of a £2bn aircraft carrier procurement error, Lord West says our ability to recapture the Falkland Islands is at stake. But the ONE report reminds us that this year 358,000 mothers will die in unaided child birth and that 2.6 million stillbirths will result and a further 2.8 million children will die in their first week of life. As I argued when Liam Fox's letter on the 0.7 per cent aid commitment leaked, there is no trade off between body armour and bednets. We can have both.

Mitchell made clear in the Sunday Times (£) yesterday, that development is a process and that aid is just a step on the developing world's journey to self-sufficiency. The UK taxpayer should be proud that their country spends their taxes through a development department (DFID) and not an aid agency (like the State Department's USAid).

Mitchell has decided that DFID will leave India in time for the next UK election because the country will be rich enough to deal with its own poverty. But there will still be around 400 million people living on less than 80p ($1.25) a day in India, more than in the 51 countries of sub-Saharan Africa put together. The £280m a year that the DFID saves will be reinvested not in warships but in water sanitation. Let's just hope that India makes poverty reduction a priority but also be proud that the UK taxpayer made one big difference to the lives of the 1.2 million Indian children who have gone to primary school since 2003 thanks to us.

Richard Darlington was Special Adviser at DFID 2009-2010 and is now Head of News at IPPR - follow him on Twitter: @RDarlo

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder