By Tim Montgomerie
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Hardly a day passes without someone in the centre right press suggesting that we should cut the aid budget in order to reduce the deficit, cut taxes, increase police funding, protect the military from cuts, reduce train fares or save the BBC World Service. Here's a taste of what I mean…
- "The annual international aid budget is approximately one quarter of the existing defence budget. If commonsensical economies were applied to the aid budget, they could at the very least cushion the drastic effects of a savage cutback on our Armed Forces." – Stephen Glover
- "By 2015, DfID’s budget will be over £11bn – this is one seventh of the entire amount saved by the Comprehensive Spending Review, and nearly double the amount spent on the police." – Sam Bowman for the Adam Smith Institute
- "Why increase aid to Afghanistan by 40pc when troops are dying from a lack of body armour and helicopters? The pledge to not just protect but vastly increase the aidbudget is one which, polls show, leaves the public puzzled. I was on the Politics Show with Jon Sopel, who was putting to Andrew Mitchell some very sharp questions about all of this. Why build schools in Afghanistan, but cancel them in Britain?" – Fraser Nelson
- "Unsurprisingly, MPs are getting a growing postbag over this. We are giving more than £300 per household to the world’s poor while public sector jobs are lost and vital services for the elderly and disabled are closed. The head of the Royal Navy has warned there may not be enough money to pursue the war in Libya." – Ian Birrell
- "Defence has fallen by £2.3 billion, and international aid is up by £2.7 billion. These are odd priorities for a country at war – and a country about to let trains charge commuters 30 percent more. A YouGov poll the other day showed just 4 percent of the public agree with Osborne on this." – Fraser Nelson
- "Thus, while British families struggle to cope with tax rises, the loss of child benefit and cuts to valued services, India will continue to receive £280million a year from the UK Exchequer." – Daily Mail editorial
- "International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell boasts we should take the same ‘pride and satisfaction’ in our ballooning overseas aid budget as we do in the Armed Forces. … Is this ass unaware that the Armed Forces are being slashed to the bone, that we have no aircraft carriers, that the BBC World Service, a truly effective means of gaining international influence, is being drastically cut – and that Britons already lead the world in voluntary donations abroad?" – Daily Mail editorial
Now, it's perfectly respectable to believe that the aid budget should have been trimmed like many other Whitehall budgets but let's not believe that getting rid of the aid budget would solve Britain's financial problems. We could stop giving any money to the poorest, hungriest and most desperate people on the planet and 90% of Labour's borrowing binge would still be hanging over our heads.
My position on aid spending has been stated often enough. Andrew Mitchell is working hard to ensure it is better spent. Money goes much, much further over there and over here. £2.22 will buy a Starbucks Coffee in Britain but will protect ten African children from polio. Through vaccinations, in particular, the UK is saving millions of lives. We have a national as well as a humanitarian interest in stopping poor nations becoming rogue states. But you don't have to agree with me on any of those things to know that the obsession with aid spending is a distraction from making really tough decisions on taxing and spending.