Wednesday, 15 April 2009

What Would David Do?

As the Brown government continues in its light-hearted yet methodical pursuit of electoral wipeout, I thought I'd have a dig around to see what the Cameroons propose to do when they get their hands on DFID. The Tories aren't exactly renowned for their glorious abundance of fully fleshed-out policies, so Imagine My Surprise at discovering that they seem to have thought this one through in some detail.

The Conservatives do not have a great record when it comes to the governmental institutions of development aid. Thatcher removed the ministerial status of the Overseas Development Administration (DFID's predecessor), and decreed that its main function would be the promotion of British exports to developing countries. So began 18 thoroughly inglorious years of arms-linked scandals and backsliding on assistance targets. So if the Tory international development team notices us looking at them a bit suspiciously, they're going to have to forgive us. These days, they acknowledge that DFID is 'one of the best development agencies in the world', and are committed to maintaining its status as an independent department led by a Secretary of State. They are also committed to meeting the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GDP on development aid by 2013, as are Labour. (Don't be too impressed. The UN set this target before I was born.) They do, however, want to set up an independent agency to evaluate DFID's efforts.

The Shadow Secretary of State for International Development is Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield. He has acquired a degree of notoriety due to his seven (seven!) paid directorships for subsidiaries of the city bank Lazard, for which he used to work (after serving in the Royal Tank Regiment, including a stint as a UN peacekeeper in Cyprus). Anti-ID cards, pro-hunting, pro-abortion rights and does the usual Tory double of both fiercely supporting the Iraq war and wanting an immediate inquiry into everything to do with it. Fellas... you know that looks silly, right?

Unsurprisingly, given his blue-helmet background, Mitchell believes that 'conflict resolution is probably the most important aspect of international development', and says that UN peacekeeping needs to be more 'muscular'. He has argued for the deployment of more UN peacekeeping troops in the DRC and in Darfur, and for systemic reform of the UN itself.

As you'd expect, Mitchell emphasises the importance of trade in development. Peter Lilley's 'In It Together' policy report, on which much current Tory development thinking is based, outlined several trade-based initiatives. These include a cross-party 'Campaign for Real Trade' to put public pressure on Western governments to open up their markets, the abolition of high tarriffs in trade between developing countries, and support for the World Trade Organization's 'Aid For Trade' initiative, which aims to compensate developing countries for losses resulting from trade liberalisation. I can't find any indication of whether these initiatives would be supported by additional funds under a Conservative government, or by funds diverted from elsewhere within the aid budget.

A more controversial aspect of the Tories' development policies concerns their apparent desire to work around the governments of developing countries, rather than through them. They have floated the idea of 'partnership trusts' in each recipient country. These trusts - comprising representatives of the major donors - would coordinate programme support, monitoring and finance in each country. Some are concerned about the effect that such trusts would have on relationships between donor and recipient governments; others have asked why this function could not be performed by the extant regional development banks, or the UN.

Elaborating on the small-government riff, Cameron has taken up and run with William Easterly's proposal of development vouchers, proposing these should be given directly to poor communities, to be redeemed 'for development services of any kind, with an aid agency or supplier of their choice.' (What is it with the Tories and vouchers? Did they all have formative sexual experiences involving Puffin Club coupons?) Lilley's policy paper, meanwhile, proposed 'demand-led development assistance', in which NGOs, private sector companies, and local and national governments would 'bid' for project finance from a central fund administered by DFID . This is one of the few areas in which it is possible to perceive some old-fashioned left-right politics. Gareth Thomas, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, has said in response that there's no alternative to working with governments; Simon Maxwell at the ODI points to the state's role as the ultimate guarantor of social provision, and warns against undermining it.

1 comment:

  1. The vouchers thing is always interesting - the Tories are very pro "your money in your pocket" when it comes to tax. Except if you're very poor, when you can't be trusted with Actual Cash, and so have to have tokens.