The coalition agreement: international development

Welcome to the twelfth in a series of posts going through the full coalition agreement section by section. You can read the full coalition document here.

International development has been one of the totemic policy areas which David Cameron chose to show how he was changing the party. As a result, just as a promise to increase spending on the NHS was used to argue that the party was changing in its attitude to public services, so too a commitment to increase spending on international aid was used to argue that the party was leaving behind its ‘nasty party’ roots.

Whatever your view on the motivations or scale of those changes, it means the Conservative Party has ended up with a policy on international development which in many respects is similar to traditional Liberal Democrat concerns. The key area of potential tension is the Conservative desire to link up international aid much more closely with foreign policy and security – which could mean humanitarian concerns playing second fiddle to diplomatic ones. The coalition document leaves the future on this unclear as, despite a range of attractive sounding safeguards (including keeping aid untied from commercial interests), plenty of scope is left for this central Conservative concern to be followed through.

What the section does do is give a long list of policies that sit comfortably with Liberal Democrats, including pledging to meeting the 0.7% overseas aid target, supporting the Millennium Development Goals, tackling maternal and infant poverty, relieving the debts of the most indebted poor countries, promoting international agreement to curb arms sales and reviewing what action can be taken over vulture funds.

However, that possible difference of approach over how to use international aid, combined with the absence of a Liberal Democrat from the department, means this policy area could yet become one of disagreement.

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One Comment

  • Chris Jordan 1st Jun '10 - 12:59pm

    For me, the agreement misses a trick in not highlighting the importance of tax justice to international development.

    We shouldn’t just be looking at better ways to spend & monitor aid, but at the ways in which we help developing countries to escape from aid dependency entirely. Helping poor countries to develop a sustainable tax base is crucial to this – and there is no reason why the Tories shouldn’t support it too. In the long term, it would mean that government spending on aid could be reduced.

    The Lib Dems should fight for their manifesto commitment that “We will crack down on tax havens which allow individuals and corporations to avoid paying taxes to developing countries”. Transparency is the first step towards achieving this – and has the added benefit of helping the UK stop tax avoidance, just as much as poor countries.

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