The government must keep its promise to enshrine the aid budget into law

By Alex Bryan

Throughout the past 3 years, a popular lament from Conservatives has been that the Government is being prevented from enacting truly conservative policies by the presence of the Liberal Democrats alongside them in office. The complainants have been particularly vocal with regards to policy areas such as Europe, law and order and liberalisation of employment laws. These are areas where the parties simply disagree, and have managed to form policy around the small amount of common ground they have, occasionally sniping at each other in the media in order to placate grumbling party bases.

Strangely, there are also issues which both parties have previously committed to which have now become areas of disagreement and backbiting, one of which became clear with the Queen’s Speech this week. Despite it featuring in the 2010 Conservative manifesto and the Coalition agreement, no commitment to enshrine the current 0.7% foreign aid budget into law was mentioned by the Queen. Both parties have said that they want to retain the current levels of spending, and both extol the virtues of Britain’s international role. Yet three years down the line their commitment to codify this into law seems to have been forgotten.

Why? Consensus seems to be that Cameron is bowing to his less moderate backbenchers, for whom foreign aid has always been an expensive luxury not to be afforded in hard times. A nice idea perhaps, but not one to be given priority at a time when British people are hurting, and our 0.7% would be a welcome boost to the budgets of more important departments. It is not only Tory backbenchers and members who think this: 7 out of 10 people believe that the UK spends too much on foreign aid, with only 7% thinking that the aid budget should continue to rise and be protected from Whitehall cuts.

David Cameron, though a confessed believer in the power of foreign aid, has already given approval to channel some of the aid budget into peacekeeping funds for British soldiers in those roles around the world. This is not a huge departure from the function of the aid budget as it existed before; the money would not go on combat operations or equipment, and would help to stabilise and support peace in troubled states around the world. In terms of ensuring that the aid budget promotes the security and development of individuals to the highest degree per pound around the world, this reform (as long as it does not subsume the rest of the aid budget) is not a bad thing.

But the danger remains that with an unwilling public and an increasingly disgruntled and vocal party, David Cameron will succumb to demands to cut the budget. The chances of doing that in the current Parliament are small, but by refusing to encase the current levels of spending in law, Cameron leaves open the option to cut the budget.

It has been well publicised that the UK has given aid to a number of countries, such as India, Russia and China, which are wealthy enough to be able to look after their own citizens. But international aid, operating in the way the UK government does, is centred around the poverty of individuals or groups of individuals around the world, not on nation-states. Aid channelled through the right kind of non-corrupt organisations into wealthy countries can help lift individuals who receive no help from their own government out of extreme poverty. This remains as true in Russia and China as in Rwanda and Chile.

Unfortunately, the recent changes in where we send foreign aid have meant that some countries such as China and Russia – and also Vietnam, Cambodia and Serbia-  will no longer receive funds. The argument that aid is needed by the poorest people in the world, regardless of how rich their government is, has been lost. But we cannot allow this to become a precedent, the start of a drift into isolationist and realist approaches to the world.

Aid makes a difference. At its most fundamental level, it saves, transforms, enriches and preserves lives. As a developed nation, we do not only have an obligation towards our citizens and allies; we have a duty to attempt to lift the general standard of human existence. In addition to stressing the moral imperative involved in international aid, David Cameron has become increasingly keen on stressing that aid and development help to protect us from extremism. Such an argument seems to me unnecessary, but the premise which supports it is hugely important; that the fight against poverty, illiteracy and war is also a fight against hatred, bigotry and brutism. It is a fight for a better world.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg know this. They know the importance of British international aid across the world; after all, it was they who committed to enshrine the current level of spending into law in the first place. Whilst in office, the previous Labour government was a great champion of international aid, tripling the aid budget from 1997 to 2009. In the midst of an unprecedented financial meltdown, the pressures on the budget were bound to increase, especially given the difficulty of quantifying the effects of aid. The government must resist such pressure and legislate to ensure that aid spending remains at least at 0.7%. It may well be the most important thing they ever do.


On the argument that it is never right to celebrate the death of a human being:

By Patrick Lee

Margaret Thatcher is dead. Act appropriately. My first reaction to her death was to think “lucky she did not die closer to the next election”, when Tory pride and eulogizing would be at a sickly peak, while the bitter arguments on “the Left’s” inappropriate street parties following her death would be tarnishing Labour’s election preparations.

The simple fact is that she is dead, and her death invites us to, like all deaths, analyse the life’s work. Let’s analyse:

Thatcher was friends with General Pinochet, a man who was charged with human rights violations, who murdered his political opponents; a man who, according to a governmental commission, tortured and murdered up to 30,000 people. Thatcher was a friend with Royalist, paedophile, and general inappropriate political fiddler, Jimmy Saville. She spent billions building nuclear weapons (Cold War aside, surely a negative thing). She blamed football fans and “hooligans” for the Hillsborough disaster. She and Reagan, in response to the oil crisis and rising inflation, deregulated major banks and welcomed in the age of neoliberalism. She destroyed inner city communities and trade unions. She widened the gap between rich and poor. She was PM while millions in the North of England were unemployed. She swapped the rule of the Trade Unions with the rule of the banks and private wealth.

Anti-welfare; anti-state; pro free-market; pro Murdoch; privatisation and, above all, introduced, perhaps irreversibly, a culture of greed and individualism.

While she was PM rubbish (literally trash) was piled up high in Trafalgar Square and there was a point when undertakers stopped burying bodies. Please take a second to absorb this image: there was a point when undertakers stopped burying bodies and Trafalgar Square became a rubbish dump.

 For anyone else still not convinced, I recommend investigating her record on apartheid (unlike the majority of European countries at the time, it is not great); and her record on Northern Ireland, where she allowed inmates on hunger strike to die.

 Still, it is easy now she is dead to remember her less than ideal record as PM. She did, indeed, create a surge in Tory support in certain areas of the country, in particular South East England, which they still enjoy today.

What maybe more relevant is to see how she has changed the world irreversibly, and to ascertain whether this is for the better or worst. And then, maybe then, we can think about whether it is morally right to celebrate the death of another human being.

It was Lenin who first posited the idea of dependency theory, disagreeing with Marx in his opinion that it would be a global revolution, not a national one, which would ultimately overthrow capitalism. Thatcher and Reagan are the King and Queen of the new, free, global market. According to sociologist Colin Crouch, Thatcher’s version of limited government became the “example which elites throughout the world, including those in countries emerging from communism, could embrace with open arms. […] concepts of democracy increasingly equated it with limited government within an unrestrained capitalist economy [and] reduced the democratic component to the holding of elections.”

Bottom line: Emerging from The Cold War the Thatcherite and Reaganite governments were the examples to which other countries saw and crawled towards. In his book, Post Democracy, Crouch chooses to focus on the consequences of this limiting of the state on the democratic process in general, noting that the more draconian, less egalitarian state suffered weaker democratic participation. And still does today.

According to Lenin the dominant state in a global capitalist market inevitably and fundamentally must have states it can rely upon for exploitation; in short, for one country to be wealthy, another must be poor, and imperialism must rule. Not only this, but according to Francis Fukuyama, the bandleader for free market Western hegemonic rule (and a convincing bandleader at that) this hegemonic rule of Western free market global economics is irreversible. Once the benefits of free trade, technological growth and investment, and technological revolution have been seen by another country, the benefits are such that no country will decide to operate in a more industrialised, socialist form again. Industrialisation can only take a country so far in a global market dictated by technological growth, free information and deregulated banking industries.

Consequence: The West does, whether you as a reader agree with the reasons behind it or not, have an imperialist presence in certain parts of the world. Lenin’s dependency theory was correct. As a digression I would argue that it is better that ultimately free-thinking, democratic states control the major oil lines on Earth rather than a psychopathic theocrat like Suddam Hussein, but nonetheless, there is a Western imperialist presence concerning oil in the world today. What am I trying to say here? I think boiled down to its skeletal form it is this: I keep hearing people argue that whether I approved of Thatcher as a politician or not, it cannot be argued she was perhaps the most influential post-war politician of our time. I am arguing that this is true because she irreversibly introduced global, free market economics. This system fundamentally, as Lenin saw, relies on the subjugation and domination of weaker states, and, ultimately on imperialism, often by force. Thatcher’s global economy encourages war, imperialism, masochistic relationships between states, and relies on imperialism for resources such as crude oil and for trade benefits.

Do we, as a Western society, not celebrate free market economics? Are we not all together in the neoliberal project of the self, in the ultimate and constant goal of achieving and of constant economic growth without end? More, and more and more growth and wealth, is the aim and intention of our collective society; and we as participants encourage this. We are, as has been recently excellently written about, discouraged from protest by an increasingly reactionary State but whether we like it or not, we are now participants in Thatcher’s exploitative, imperialist free market which, whether we like it or not, relies upon and consequently celebrates the death and destruction and exploitation of other nations. Our armies continue to grow, our technology for producing weapons gets better, and our presence in the World grows, at the expense of the lives and cultures of others. And yet still we argue over the death of the lady that started it all: Is it ever morally right to celebrate the death of another human being?