by Peter Franklin
Friday, 27
November 2020

The case for aid should have been patriotic, not preachy

by Peter Franklin
Aid is something to be proud of. Credit: Getty

When it became clear that the Government was considering a cut to foreign aid, the international development charities made their objections clear. For instance, Oxfam called it a “false economy” that would “mean less money for the poorest communities just when they need it most.”

And yet the cut was made anyway. The hard truth is that it was a political no-brainer. As polling for The Sun shows, the decision has the overwhelming support of the public — with 57% in favour and just 15% against.

I should declare that I’m among the 15% and utterly dismayed by the cut. Nevertheless, I also think that the charities must shoulder part of the blame.

The standard critique of the well-known NGOs is that they’ve become too big for their boots, paying their executives fat salaries while meddling in politics rather than actually helping people.

However, that’s not my problem with them. Big charities should be professional and be able to pay for effective leaders. Furthermore, if it advances their charitable aims, they should be free to speak out and campaign. If we want a vigorous civil society then we need non-governmental organisations of all shapes and sizes — from small-and-local to big-and-global.

Rather, the real problem with the aid charities is how they’ve deployed their fire power. They scored a great victory when they got Parliament to adopt the 0.7% aid target into law; but they neglected a vital constituency — the British people. By failing to embed support for the target in the wider population, they made it easy for politicians to knock it back down (to 0.5% in this case).

How might the charities have done things differently? For a start, by raising more awareness of just how exceptional the UK commitment to 0.7% actually was. Very few other nations, and no other G7 nations, have matched it. Even at 0.5% we’ll still be more generous than the Americans, French or Japanese. And it’s not just the quantity of aid, but also it’s quality. As Sam Bowman explains here, the UK has led the way in learning from past mistakes.

This is something to be proud of — and thus the case for aid should have been patriotic not preachy. However, that would have meant challenging the liberal, Remainery narrative that we’re a bunch of xenophobic, empire-nostalgists. And I’m afraid our prominent NGOs are incapable of any such thing. I don’t want to stereotype the good folk who staff their London offices, but you’re likely to find more Leave voters on the payroll of the New European.

Of course, this is a sector that going to attract idealistic, earnest young graduates. Which is fine, until it comes to necessary business of reaching out to the rest of society — where, clearly, they’ve failed.

Join the discussion

  • When I worked in a partnership we considered charitable donations- but the decision was made – rightly- that giving to charity was a personal matter not something that the firm should do on a partner’s behalf. Perhaps the Govt could learn from this ? I

  • Perhaps those who are so concerned about the shortfall could increase their own donations to the UK charities involved in these fields, rather than taxing their neighbours in order to do so. No? Thought not.

  • You just have to wonder what planet these liberals are on. The 4 and a bit countries which give the same or more as a percentage of GDP are Norway, Sweden, Denmark ,Netherlands and Luxembourg, All have an appreciably higher GDP per capita than the UK, Lux is number one. All are in the top 20 of world current account surplus balances = real wealth, eg Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund. The UK is in the bottom 20 of countries with CA deficits. This is a country which hasn’t run a surplus since 1984!

    Back in 2011 Peston reported that the UK’s aggregate debt were the biggest in the G7, 5 times GDP, god knows what the multiple is now. BOE Quantitative Easing will reach £875 billion, obviously a fancy term for printing money.

    If the upshot of systemtic economic weakness plus covid plus Brexit is systemic economic collapse that should come as no suprise.

    And yet liberals are falling over themselves to borrow money to give away! The Duke of Wellington once said that there was nothing stupid in the world as a gallant gentleman, liberals have long assumed that “distinction”

    Oh yes, and the biggest recipient of this borrowed
    largesse is Pakistan – why’s that then? Are are any passing liberals up for a discussion on Danegeld? Not that they will have heard of it of course.

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