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The battle on aid is not won: NGOs shouldn't be soft on Cameron

If a law enshrining the 0.7 per cent aid target isn't in the Queen's Speech, development charities won’t be able to have their cake and eat it.

Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and David Cameron co-chair a United Nations meeting on tackling global poverty in Monrovia on February 1, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

The Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliot has had enough. In his latest column, he takes a pop at both David Cameron and UK development charities. Britain’s Prime Minister, he argues, sees economic growth as a panacea but Cameron, he claims, "has been treated with kid gloves by most of the UK development charities."

Elliot remembers Make Poverty History, Blair, Brown and Bono with nostalgic fondness but his current pessimism is clear in his latest column. G8 countries, who are struggling to kick start their own economic growth and are imposing austerity at home, are looking jealously at the growth rates of developing countries, and are questioning why they should do more to help.
 
This is a crucial year for the global development agenda and as a global player, Cameron is key. As well as hosting the G8 summit in the UK in July, the Prime Minister is representing the G8 on the panel advising the UN on the next set of global development goals. The 'High Level Panel' that he co-chairs is due to report at the end of May and some kind of growth target looks like it is firmly on the agenda.
 
But inequality is not, and that’s mainly because of Cameron. The case for making inequality an explicit target is eloquently argued by the new head of the Overseas Development Institute, Kevin Watkins. Another of the ODI’s experts, Claire Melamed explains how difficult Cameron’s job is going to be, but she too concludes that a focus on jobs and unemployment, might be more productive than on national GDP.
 
There are two new facts in the post-Make Poverty History world: the majority of poor people no longer live in poor countries, while the majority of poor people that do live in poor countries, live in conflict affected states. Cameron seems to acknowledge the second fact but not the first. None of the conflict affected states are going to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals, something which is not lost on a Prime Minister looking for stable trading partners. The New Deal seems to have firmly established its peace-building agenda and some kind of goal in this area looks certain.
 
But a fourth agenda, highlighted this week by the launch of the State of Civil Society report, is also crucial. "The freedom from want is nothing without the freedom from fear," writes the Secretary General the global federation of civil society organisations, Civicus. His report suggests that a third of the world’s internet users have experienced restrictions on the information they can access and the social media they can use to mobilise activists and hold governments to account.
 
The new development goals are intended both to guide the investment of aid by rich countries and focus the development efforts of countries and charities alike. But as yet another ODI expert, Romilly Greenhill argued this week, the UK development community has been far more focused on the amount of aid, rather than the direction of development.
 
And yet, the battle on aid is not yet won. The Queen’s Speech is a week on Wednesday and it is the deadline set by UK NGOs leading the ‘IF’ campaign for the coalition government to commit to legislate to enshrine 0.7 per cent into domestic law. When Osborne confirmed the DfID budget, NGOs celebrated with cake, despite a historic underspend by DIFD last year. If a law on 0.7 per cent isn’t in the Queen’s Speech, the UK NGOs won’t be able to have their cake and eat it. They need to once again wield a 'stick', as well as celebrate with the 'carrot' of a cake.
 
Richard Darlington was special adviser at the Department for International Development from 2009-2010 and is now head of news at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter: @RDarlo