The UK Secretary of State for International development, Andrew Mitchell, gave his first major, setpiece speech in government on Thursday. The debate starts up again.
Mitchell was speaking at a meeting convened by Oxfam and the Policy Exchange and had three messages:
- To the poor of the world: “the people and Government of Britain are on your side;”
- To hardworking british taxpayers: Mitchell will concentrate on delivering and demonstrating value for money in international aid;
- To all those involved in international development: “Be prepared for change… a fundamental change that empowers people, that creates and sustains wealth rather than simply redistributing it.”
The central policy initiatives in his speech are that the government will create and independent aid watchdog and guarantee transparency in UK aid.
Good stuff and along the way he made a very well argued re-presentation of the case that overseas development aid is a moral and political priority, together with his insistence that the aid must be providd efficiently and effectively.
Nonetheless, the Guardian was ready to query whether the commitment to increase development aid to 0.7% of Gross National Income is as reliable as it sounds. And commenting on their editorial, I was moved to point out that in so many of the countries where UK aid is having the least impact (like everybody else’s aid), the problem is not just poverty but the linked issues of the shadow of armed violence and the debilitation inflicted by bad government. In opposition, Mitchell stressed these themes. It will be interesting to see how he picks them up and operationalises them in government.