So today the Tory Defence Secretary, Liam Fox’s concerns over the 0.7% per Gross National Income (GNI) target were somehow leaked to the press. Dr. Fox (his name sounds like a Ronald Dahl character, but that’s not the point) seems to be opposed to the fact that the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) gets a golden egg in the form of a ring-fenced budget and a pledge to raise aid spending to the 1970s target of 0.7% of GNI. In an era of economic bust and cuts (created by Fox’s party), Fox is suddenly angry that DFID gets a free spending spree while MOD has to slash its budget (actually Dr. Fox you would have slashed the budget anyway).
In comes the reply from Labour’s triple hatted-girl, Harriet Harman–Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and then Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. She argued, hat the Tories must bring the 0.7% spending into legislation and not backtrack on it. Same calls came from the rather ill-sighted Labour Campaign for International Development–a rather swift blog post.
Never in the years of liking Labour’s creation of DFID have I been so frustrated with the development view of Labour. I don’t think any other previous or current administrator or minister in charge of international development, UK or global, is so overly concerned with the 0.7% target–not even Clare Short, Valarie Amos, Hilary Benn or Douglas Alexander.
Yes, Labour may have increased UK Official Development Assistance under its watch, but as I’ve pointed out in my previous post, they did not do so in a positive trend and nor did they reach 0.7%. Second, as I have argued, the crux of the matter is not just about aid levels or volumes but about the ideas that come with aid and aid effectiveness. As I’ve said, you can even give 7% of your GNI, but you still have poor countries if your aid is stuck in the conditionality-based, neoliberal approach.
So why is Ms. Harman so uptight over this target? Does she really think once you get 0.7% of your GNI in place you can pop the champagne bottle? Hear me out, I am not advocating a dismissal of the 0.7% target unlike the folks at The Center for Global Development. Rather, Harman and her team must realise that aid targets are not the means and ends of development. As I’ve said above, none of the previous Labour SoS were so overly concerned with 0.7%. So Ms. Harman should not be.
Harriet Harman is in a good position to tackle DFID now but in my view, she’s hitting the wrong nail. I’ve pointed out several areas where she can tackle Andrew Mitchell on such as the Cash-On-Deliver (COD) approach or start learning about development from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). Harping on “you better get 0.7% in place or else” won’t get you anywhere. Rather, it gives Mr. Mitchell a free shot and playing the DFID tennis ball by himself and risk letting global poverty be global poverty.