Cameron’s attack on G8 aid pledges: taking the moral high ground or shouting from the sidelines?
The Prime Minister has launched a volley of criticism at the rest of the G8 leaders who this week failed to ‘fess up in Deauville about breaking their overseas aid pledges. He is absolutely right to take the moral high ground on this issue: and is clearly and valiantly at odds with most of his MPs (according to confidential poll results we’ve seen) as well as Defence Secretary Liam Fox. But is taking the moral high ground a good way to persuade his fellow G8 leaders to follow Britain’s lead? Cameron’s righteous ranting is in stark contrast to the effective diplomacy of Blair and Brown who persuaded the G8 to make their aid pledges in the first place (at the 2005 Gleneagles summit).
The language quoted in George Parker’s FT report suggests Cameron is genuinely and passionately committed to reaching the UN target for overseas aid (0.7% of GNI). He should be praised for his conviction, which may triumph over the nay-sayers in the right-wing media, on his back benches and even in the Cabinet when he has to increase the aid budget by a third the year after next, which is the plan.
But I wonder whether default Tory nationalism lies behind his choice to use that commitment to attack, rather than persuade, the foreigners who lead the other G8 countries? Rather than ‘perfidious Albion’, he seems to suggest, it is ‘reneging aliens’ who will be to blame when babies starve and governments collapse.
International bodies like the G8, G20 or even the UN (although the latter at least has executive powers) operate by consensus, and are only effective when someone shows leadership. There has been little enough of that since Gordon Brown browbeat the G20 to co-ordinate fiscal action to forestall a global depression, and current G8/G20 host President Sarkozy is doing notably badly (which is a real worry given that our hopes are pinned on him to introduce a global or near-global Financial Transactions Tax).
So Cameron’s “impassioned attack” on the “men in suits” at the G8 (presumably Angela Merkel was wearing a trouser suit) is unlikely to deliver what the developing world needs – not a gloriously isolated extra £3bn from the UK, but the rather more handy £19bn that would be delivered under the Gleneagles agreement.