Justine Greening has given a rather low key speech at Conservative Party Conference this morning, with the key announcement being that Ministers will now need to approve every spend over £5m rather than the previous £40m threshold. It would be catty to suggest that detailed Ministerial scrutiny didn’t work so well in her previous post at Transport…
So, the new International Development Secretary recommitted herself, without fireworks, to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid: a pledge she is said, personally, to oppose. But she made no pledge on legislation, a promise already broken in detail, and increasingly likely to remain unmet before the next election. She spoke of the moral and self-interested reasons for overseas aid, which is probably the only way to justify a contradictory position of boosting government spending overseas while cutting it at home. And she emphasised the needs of women in developing countries.
There was nothing in the speech about tackling the tax havens which bleed more money out of developing countries than overseas aid puts in, nothing about ethical multinational capitalism and nothing about rights and justice, as her shadow, Ivan Lewis pointed out swiftly on twitter. There was a section on transparency and openness – likely to be a key theme for Britain’s G8 next year – but in a tax-payers-alliance style, rather than empowering people in developing countries.
Overall, there was little objectionable in Justine Greening’s “heads down and carry on” approach, but an awful lot missing. But ducking the difficult questions of economic and social justice will not quiet the critics of DFID’s growing budget, nor the progressives who want to see a development agenda that challenges the powerful and transforms economies.