0.7% Legislation – A Victim of Cameron’s Malaise
By failing to include legislation to enshrine the 0.7% aid commitment in law in today’s Queens speech this Tory-led Government has once again broken a Coalition Agreement promise. In addition, both the Tories and Lib Dems have failed to honour a promise which was in their respective 2010 election manifestos.
Putting party politics aside, I have repeatedly welcomed the Government’s decision to honour Labour’s commitment to achieve the globally agreed target to spend 0.7% of Gross National income on ODA by this year.
UK aid works. Every year it helps raise more that three million people out of poverty and get millions of children into school. In 2012 alone it stopped 2.7million mothers and children from going hungry and vaccinated 12million children against lifethreatening diseases.
However, instead of using this historic moment to make the case that it is the right thing to do both from a social justice and national self interest perspective, David Cameron and Justine Greening are focused entirely on appeasing the emboldened right wing of their party and running scared in the face of Ukip’s surge in support. Sadly, failing to include the legislation in the Queen’s Speech is part of a pattern of behaviour which should be a wake up call to all those who believed UK development policy was safe in Cameron’s hands.
On the one hand, David Cameron wants to be seen as embracing a progressive agenda, but on the other he has retreated from making the case and winning the argument for the importance of UK leadership on aid and development in the court of public opinion. We have seen a similar pattern of behaviour on the Big Society and green agendas. His Tory party modernisation project is well and truly dead.
Over the past few weeks there have been a number of cynical and misleading interventions which can only be seen as a desperate attempt to neutralise his critics on the right. Suggestions emanating from the heart of Government that in future UK aid will be primarily used to replace cuts to the defence budget and promote British trade interests.
Justine Greening’s handling of her announcement that the UK will end its bilateral aid programme in South Africa by 2015 is another example. She falsely claimed to have secured the agreement of the South African Government, sparking a fierce backlash from the South Africans and raising serious questions about her judgment and integrity. A rushed unilateral announcement three days before local elections which put her party’s desperate need for a good headline ahead of the needs of South Africa’s poor, Britain’s foreign policy interests and our strategic relationship with a key global partner.
This lurch to the right underlines our concern that without legislation, we cannot be sure that this Government will keep its promise to deliver the 0.7% target in future years and stop the aid budget being raided by other departments who are feeling the effects of swinging cuts. The critics of legislation also ignore the fact that by making permanent the link between 0.7% and Gross National Income we would be ensuring the UK’s aid contribution will always be related to the health of our economy. When our GDP increases so would our aid contribution and when it reduces the aid budget would be cut accordingly.
To illustrate this, we will not be able to reverse this Government’s de facto cut of over £2billion to the aid budget over the past couple of years which has occurred due to the successive downgrading of growth forecasts as a result of their failed economic policies.
Today, the Tories and their Lib Dem allies will argue that legislation doesn’t matter as they will hit the 0.7% target this year. Nick Clegg’s silence on this issue has been deafening. They may even claim once again that it remains their intention to legislate subject to parliamentary time. Neither of these arguments stand up to scrutiny and the nearer we get to a General Election the less likelihood there is of legislation. The Tory right will claim the omission of the bill as more evidence that Cameron is buckling to their pressure and backing away from his commitment to aid and development. It was several of their standard bearers who prevented Mark Hendrick’s Private Members Bill which would have enshrined 0.7% in law from making progress during the last parliamentary session.
This is an important moment. If we don’t stand up and be counted, do not be surprised if this turns out to be the thin edge of the wedge as UK aid is used as a cynical weapon in the battle for the soul of the Tory party, instead of a symbol of our national pride. For our part we remain committed to the legislation and will work with MPs of goodwill on all sides of the House to seek a positive way forward.
Ivan Lewis MP
This article first appeared on the Huffington Post on Thursday 9th May 2013. Read it here.