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3 January 2017

The right’s next target: foreign aid

The same crew that brought you Brexit now has a different target.

By Stephen Bush

Christmas doesn’t officially end until Twelfth Night (or 5 January for those of you celebrating Winterval), but the season of goodwill comes to an abrupt end on the front of today’s Mail.

“Queue here for UK’s £1bn foreign aid cashpoint” is their splash, with a picture of mostly swarthy men queuing. The revelation, such as it is, is that some of British aid money is being given directly as ATM cards with money, and that the amount has increased from £53m in 2005 to an annual average of £219m in the years since 2011.

There is a lot to unpick here, not least that, as readers with long memories will know, it was only last month that the Mail was complaining that Britain’s foreign aid wasn’t going directly to the world’s poorest but was instead being funneled through consultancies.

But what’s important to note is this: the reason why the amount that UK plc gives as direct cash has gone up is that a 2011 review by Dfid into what made the most effective use of aid spending found that cash transfers were among the most useful tools – a finding backed up by a series of studies at Princetonthe ODI, and a number of organisations and institutions.

Increasing the amount given in cash transfers was a personal project of Andrew Mitchell when he came into the department in 2010 and, if Priti Patel is serious about getting more value for money overseas, will likely be a big part of her project too.

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But there’s another force at work here. Whatever you think about the Brexit vote, you cannot deny that it helped the cause of Leave that the Brexiteers had fought a non-stop campaign against the European Union since at least the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and arguably since Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech.

Now that same coalition – the Mail, the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Conservative right – is gearing up to do the same to foreign aid. As with Brexit, the supporters of the status quo don’t even agree on what their best XI is, let alone have them anywhere close to the pitch. The attack on international development is going to be a big part of British politics in 2017, assuming that Donald Trump doesn’t kill us all in nuclear fire. Its defenders have got a job of work to do.