From the TUC

Cameron’s attack on G8 aid pledges: taking the moral high ground or shouting from the sidelines?

29 May 2011, by in International, Uncategorized

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.

5 Responses to Cameron’s attack on G8 aid pledges: taking the moral high ground or shouting from the sidelines?

  1. Bill Kruse
    May 29th 2011, 11:32 am

    Um, foreign aid; isn’t that the one where the point of the loan is that borrowers get trapped in a debt spiral they can never get out of? They work and work but can never earn enough to pay off the interest let alone the original so they’re in debt bondage forever? This is the kind of foreign aid Cameron is vigorously defending? He would, wouldn’t he?


  2. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    May 29th 2011, 12:50 pm

    Bill, foreign AID is a gift, not a loan.

  3. Bill Kruse
    May 29th 2011, 2:55 pm

    Unconditional gift? With no expectation of any return?


  4. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    May 29th 2011, 3:12 pm

    Well, we’ve always argued that the Conservatives agreed to match Labour’s aid pledge to demonstrate that they were no longer the “nasty” party, so they get an electoral benefit from the aid money. And if you want to be even more cynical, it’s not hard to imagine that the UK national interest is served by developing countries becoming less poor (more trading opportunities and less ecurity problems – hence, for example, increasing amounts of aid for Pakistan). The previous Conservative government tied aid to quite specific business interests (eg the Pergau Dam), but they know people are watching for that sort of deal now, so it’s less likely.

  5. Bill Kruse
    May 29th 2011, 3:36 pm

    I don’t trust gifting. I would imagine Cameron is giving, if giving it is, in the anticipation that once donated by poor and middle-class taxpayers here the money will eventually find its way back into the coffers of his rich business chums a la Bush with Iraq. One could argue that it benefits the gifting country but it sounds to me more like yet another way of transferring money from the poor here to the rich here, albeit using a complex route.