Keir Starmer’s plans for aid and diplomacy may help explain it
DTRANSACTIONS FOR the duty owed to another tends to arouse strong feelings. Take support from abroad. Those on the right of Britain’s Conservative Party see spending on the far-flung poor as a sign of waste and apathy. Boris Johnson once called the aid sector a “big money hole in the sky”, eating up money without regard for domestic interests. Those on the left of the Labor Party feel equally strongly that aid is a moral imperative and that post-Brexit Britain must signal more clearly than ever that it is committed to the wider world . Opinion polls suggest that Labor will form the next government. What Sir Keir Starmer, its leader, decides on foreign policy matters. His stance on foreign aid is a testament to his priorities.
The big question is how to fix the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). Attracting top talent is difficult. Funding has been cut suddenly, throwing aid projects into disarray. Other departments have pooled their money: around 30% of the foreign aid budget is now spent in Britain, mostly by the Home Office to house asylum seekers in shelters. hotel With little good news to share, the sector has grown. After ceasing to publish detailed expenditure data, Britain has fallen down international standards of aid transparency. The country’s reputation as a leader in aid is being lost.
What can Sir Keir do? He has talked about removing the union. It’s easy to see why. Such a move would seem bold and pleasing to party activists who consider him as a fearless, incompetent person. Those who want a powerful independent support department back would rejoice. Unlike many other election promises, this one would be easy to honor. Sir Keir may also think it would burnish Britain’s image. Along with a promise to bring back a target to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid (up from 0.5% today), it may even lead to an encouraging campaign promise.
It would be a mistake to disappear though. One reason is that the worry and cost of repartitioning a traumatized department is just beginning to settle down. Although the implementation of the union was executed, now that the diplomats and the aid experts have built one roof they are better off staying under it. Another reason is that it makes sense to keep aid spending and diplomacy together. The main reason is FCDOaid is to help the poor. But to get support at home, aid policy should align with British interests. Development combined with diplomacy would not scare off foreign recipients, who already suspect that aid is tied to the donor’s benefit.
Instead Sir Keir needs to find other ways to make support work better, as some senior figures in his party are now making clear. It would be admirable to restore the 0.7% target, showing that Britain really is a model donor. But until public finances improve, stability is the most important ambition – to provide an aid budget that cannot be raided by other departments. The aid minister, Andrew Mitchell, is sitting in the cabinet and is already making improvements; his successor should also be in the cabinet. It would make sense to give more autonomy to aid experts, as would the restoration of transparency and the FCDO better cooperation with Parliament.
Will Sir Keir oppose the promise of splitting the FCDO? Many voters still know a lot about him. His policy on aid is an opportunity to identify the type of prime minister he would be. He told party campaigners this week, after Labor failed to win a by-election in Mr Johnson’s old seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, not to be complacent about the election. general. It is correct. He needs to show he can run a tight ship, compared to the administrative chaos of recent Tory governments. Sometimes, the wisest course is to choose a policy that makes less headlines. To help, at least, Sir Keir should do that. ■