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The right's next target: foreign aid

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

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.

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.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.