Andrew Mitchell is MP
for Sutton Coldfield and is Shadow Secretary of State for International
Think back to that sweltering, bloody July day almost two years ago when bombers murdered scores of people on the tube. My abiding memory is of cycling home from my office in the Commons and thinking, as I passed through an unusually quiet city, of the death and destruction that had taken place below me. 7/7 will always be a grim anniversary for Britain.
But something else of importance for the world happened that day – and contrasted sharply with the attacks in London. In the luxurious surroundings of the six-star Gleneagles hotel, world leaders leaders queued up to sign a set of ambitious pledges to help the poor. More aid! Freer trade! Drop the Debt!
What a contrast to the bloody events in London. As fanatics realised
their pledge to take lives, the most powerful people in the world
gathered to sign a solemn compact to save lives – millions of them.
Whatever its verdict on the other aspects of his premiership,
history will surely judge Tony Blair kindly for his role in making this
Yet two years on, that solemn G8 compact looks more like a dodgy
I.O.U note. The Doha Trade Round languishes as negotiators squabble
like children. Blood flows freely in the streets of Darfur, Zimbabwe
and Congo. Aid from France and Italy actually fell over the last two
And so in Germany this month Tony Blair was reduced to the role of a street charity fundraiser, stopping passing G8 leaders on the pavement as they tried to divert their eyes and walk on past. He jumped out in front of them, rattling a tin under their noses, imploring them to give generously.
But even Blair’s expert sales patter couldn’t prevent some disappointing outcomes from this year’s global pow-wow. In an astonishing display of cynicism, the G8 watered-down their historic commitment to universal prevention and treatment for HIV/AIDS by 2010. The spin-meisters trumpeted a headline pledge of $60bn to tackle killer diseases. Wonderful news – if the cash actually materialises.
But the Prime Minister also missed a trick in focussing his energetic lobbying solely on the quantity of aid. Yes, well-spent aid can save millions of lives. That is why the Conservative Party will spend 0.7% of national income as aid by 2013. Aid cynics should look into the eyes of children who have been saved from smallpox and polio before complaining about how aid doesn’t work.
But we have to be candid. Too much aid is not fulfilling its potential. Some is tied to buying goods from donor countries. Much of it doesn’t go to help the poorest. So aid quality and effectiveness matter, too.
That’s why this month I unveiled a new G8 League Table of Aid Effectiveness, based on figures from the Centre for Global Development. The League Table ranks countries according to both the quantity and the effectiveness of their aid.
Reassuringly, Britain is the Manchester United of the G8, coming top of the table. Japan and Italy, lurking at the bottom, look set for relegation.
Tony Blair should have used some of his energies this week to establish an international body to systematically measure and compare the impact and effectiveness of aid and drive up standards.
And he should start at home by creating an Independent Aid Watchdog to scrutinise British aid. This would also have a strong international dimension, as so much of British aid goes through multilateral channels like the World Bank, or is spent in partnership with other bilateral donors. This Watchdog would therefore shine a light on which G8 countries are doing well – and which aren’t.
So as Tony Blair’s long goodbye draws to a close and he says ‘auf wiedersehen, world’ at his swansong summit, there is cause for mixed feelings. He missed a big trick in not focussing on aid quality, and in failing to make the G8 live up to their promises on HIV/AIDS. He did well to extract promises for extra cash to end the sickening scandal of children dying needlessly from easily-preventable diseases. But if I were a poor person in Congo I wouldn’t start celebrating just yet. Those G8 cheques might just bounce. It is up to all politicians and campaigners of goodwill to ensure that they don’t.