I must be one of the few on the Right who thinks that it is morally acceptable to continue giving International Development Aid in a time of economic crisis at home. Their reasons may make sense, but only from a selfish and short-termist view. One thing, however, which dismays me more than them, is the current inefficiency and wanton waste in our current set up on Aid spending.
International Aid is fundamentally a good thing as it is, after all, supposed to save lives and make poorer parts of the world more developed. This in itself is a good thing, and there is the hope that a richer third world will buy more British goods, thus making it worth our while with reciprocal trade agreements. While this is undoubtedly mutually beneficial, it is not the full story, and helping people just to flog them jet fighter aircraft is not in the right spirit. I personally would like there to be only three government departments, and International Development would definitely make the list, it has the aura of internationalism which combats the pernicious ‘patriotism’ of favouring British interests at the expense of others.
What I hope we can actually do with this is raise the whole world to a suitable standard of living; one where people don’t starve to death, or go thirsty due to a lack of money to build a well, for example. If we do this, and the world is not within the range of brutal famine, then there cannot be any genuine calls for redistribution of incomes: after all, if we all have enough to eat then any calls for punitive taxation on the rich would be borne out of jealousy rather than need. What I hope we can do is actually drain the lifeblood of socialism with Aid, and by dealing with real poverty where such a thing actually exists; we can reduce the whinging about “relative” poverty.
We have already seen the Bishops threaten to use their undemocratic, pre-Enlightenment sway in the Lords to stop some benefit being taken away from those dependent on the state, if the government can show they care about actual suffering abroad, they won’t be able to bring back the ‘Nasty Party’ epitaph of Toryism.
The difficulty is when something like this happens: the Prime Minister of Uganda spiriting away millions of taxpayers’ money, which was designed to save the people he claims to represent from poverty and AIDS. There are many examples to use, such as the propping up of the tyrant Paul Kagame’s oppressive regime in Rwanda, and the disgusting waste of all development Aid ever sent to Pakistan, the ‘ally’ who is happy to shelter the leader of the most feared terrorist organisation in the world in their equivalent of Aldershot and then complain when agents of international justice hunt him down.
The world’s autocrats need to fear our Aid, like Assad is currently learning to do in Syria. It needs to be a tool which facilitates the removal of evil men from office, not ensuring a swish retirement penthouse in a Paris penthouse. It is here where one cannot but feel that those who criticise Aid are somewhat justified. This does not mean, however, and never should do so, that the whole enterprise is flawed beyond redemption.
What we can do is reform the edifice, and this is already occurring in some places, such as the decision to channel some Aid through British companies to provide infrastructure, but more could foreseeable be done. We could give more Aid directly to charities such as Oxfam and incalculably brave Orchid Project; this would have the plus side of not going through the coffers of local regimes: which in these areas are more likely to be corrupt and rotten. This does not totally alleviate all problems, however, as although charity workers are less likely to embezzle the money, inefficiencies can be created by the sheer amount of cash involved. What I suggest is focussing on small local initiatives, such as vaccinations and well building, rather than giving it direct to a few large organisations, if this requires civil service micromanaging, so be it, there are worse uses of public sector employees.
In summary, we need to reform our Aid, but this does not mean that it is recourse to scrap it entirely. Populists may well moan about their own feeble interests, but it pales in comparison to what others suffer. We need to come at this in an ideological, not a pragmatic, way. After all if it is true that David Cameron is to lose the next election whatever happens, why not use his term to do some genuine good?