Cameron can’t ‘give the aid budget to MoD’ because he can’t change the law

David Cameron told reporters this week that he would be open to the idea of aid money being spent on military peacekeeping operations. The prime minister won't be able to fill gaps in the defence budget with aid money, however, because the law won't allow it.

On the flight back from his trip to India this week, the prime minister spoke to the press pack traveling with him about the aid budget.

The BBC headlined his comments as ‘Aid money could go to defence’, while the Daily Mail went further with the headline ‘Cameron to divert aid millions to avoid defence cuts and free up cash for equipment’ and the Sun went further still with ‘PM: I’ll raid aid cash to pay MoD’.

We don’t know if Cameron intended to drop this story, but the presence on his trip of two canny and experienced political journalists who have both previously been defence correspondents (the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn and the Mail’s Tim Shipman) might have steered Cameron’s Q&A session down this path.

Read the Sun or the Daily Mail and it looks like a bit of smart political positioning during the Eastleigh by-election using some dog-whistle politics. Read the BBC report and it looks like a bit of a statement of the status quo.

But that didn’t stop NGOs like Oxfam responding with outrage and demanding that aid be spent on ‘schools and not soldiers’.

The reality is that a billion people across the globe who live in poverty do so in conflict affected and fragile states.

Schools do indeed prevent wars, but sometimes you need soldiers to liberate schools and restore law and order.

Over the last decade, billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money has been spend on ‘stabilisation’, ‘peacekeeping’ and all manner of ‘conflict prevention’ in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other conflict afflicted countries.

The international community now expresses regrets about not doing more in Rwanda and may one day feel the same about Syria, Mali and even Gaza.

The world’s capacity to absorb taxpayers money is endless so politicians need to be clear about what they are trying to achieve. When he was development secretary, Douglas Alexander published a White Paper which re-prioritised DFID’s spending on conflict affected states.

It was welcome by think tanks & charities alike because it avoided stepping across the line into the ‘securitisation of aid’.

I’ve written before about the false trade-off in what I describe as the ‘bednets vs body armour’ debate. But charities can take some comfort from the fact that if the prime minister really does want to use the aid budget to back fill cuts to the defence budget, he will need to repeal the International Development Act.

That law ensures that aid is only spent on “furthering sustainable development or promoting the welfare of people that is likely to contribute to the reduction of poverty.”

There is no chance the prime minster will risk such a vote at the moment because it would expose his failure to keep his manifesto pledge to enshrine aid spending at 0.7% in law. On page 117 of the Conservative manifesto, the commitment is clear:

“A new Conservative government will be fully committed to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income as aid. We will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid. We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.”

Now in the third session of this Parliament there is still no sign of the promised legislation, despite valiant efforts by Mark Hendrick MP to use a Private Members Bill to force a vote.

So despite the headlines, Cameron won’t change his policy because he can’t change the law.

And for that very reason, NGOs should remember that future governments will be similarly constrained by a law on 0.7% but that the 2015 manifestos might not repeat that commitment if that law doesn’t get passed before the next election.

8 Responses to “Cameron can’t ‘give the aid budget to MoD’ because he can’t change the law”

  1. Mick

    Another sham by Cameron, a man not exactly without influence. When Labour people howled at even the mention of cutting the aid budget, the emotional blackmail would be laid on deep and heavy. Those poor little babies. Those poor little hungries. Those poor little dictatorships and tinpot punk state ‘democracies’. (And in America too, Obama sees it as important to ‘work WITH’ the dictatorships to end the sufferings there!)

    Another good reason to spend money on the military. If you want these crazies to have democracy and peace, you go back in. We have the experience after all.

  2. Newsbot9

    Yes, keep stealing food from the kids, your job.

    And that’s right, you need the army to suppress resistance to your ideas in Britain.

  3. blarg1987

    What could be done is better management of the aid buidget, for example if a bridge is rebuilt by the ary does that money come from defence or aid? If it is from defence surely iot should coem from aid as the bridge is serving a function not only for the military but predominantly the local population improving communuication etc?

    Also we should have clauses in the aid budget so that money is spent on not only development but also maintenance to many times has money been spnet on building new schools etc only for years later it need to be rebuilt as it was never maintained.

    We could also grow the economy by including additional clauses such as development has to be from Uk companies such as JCB’s etc as long as the company offers a fair price for their products. That way the tax reveune can go back into the aid budget repeating the process as we will be getting the money back.

  4. Mick

    Love that Newsbot cliche machine.

    ‘Spitting on the workers’ is my favourite. No, ‘hitting people like a machine’ is.

  5. Newsbot9

    Right, you call what you’re doing a cliche. Because it is, Tory.

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