The Lib Dems' Foreign Aid Pledge Is Out-of-Touch Madness

The Lib Dems' Foreign Aid Pledge Is Out-of-Touch Madness

It isn’t exactly splitting the atom or even pushing boundaries to suggest that the modern Liberal Democrats are anathema to both liberalism and democracy. 

Their commitment to the European Union, ever increasing taxation, neo-Malthusian environmental policies, open door immigration and fatally weakening our nuclear deterrent in an increasingly unhinged world demonstrates a gulf between their policies and the thoughts of your average Brit and most of their pet causes, the EU especially, are by nature undemocratic and illiberal. 

This week the Lib Dems have taken their fondness for pointless legislative pettifoggery to an entirely new level by suggesting that we bind future governments to the current arbitrary foreign aid spending target of 0.7 percent of GDP. 

There are a series of glaring problems that this suggestion might evoke. Primarily, as Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond rather eloquently explained while in Ebola-struck Sierra Leone this week, it’s wholly unnecessary and rather bizarre to legislate for something we are already doing.

Secondly, more importantly, foreign aid is increasingly unpopular amongst the British public.  A YouGov poll last year found that just 7 percent of Brits want the overseas aid budget to increase while two-thirds of the British public want it to decrease, echoing a global trend of 51 percent believing that the money their country spends on financial aid is wasted or misspent.

The public are more than just “sceptical”, as Mr Hammond put it, of foreign aid; they’re damn well sick of forking out billions while domestic services are cut and living standards at home remain below what we’re used to.

Then there’s the fact of the blatant misuse and siphoning off of money sent abroad in the guise of foreign aid. If we ignore superfluous funding of Moroccan waterparks, £8.35m for “meaningful and exciting” PE lessons in countries including Malaysia, Brazil and Turkey, a “holistic” tourism programme at an Icelandic volcano and “the Ethiopian ‘Spice Girls’” (h/t The Telegraph), there is our habit of sending millions to wealthy countries including India, China, Russia and Brazil, whose economies will dwarf our own. 

Even more worrying is the conclusion of a report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact that claims the billions of British pounds poured into foreign aid may actually do harm by increasing corruption in many parts of the world.  Foreign aid is obviously in serious need of reform, not cementing into the statues.

Unlike many on the right, I don’t oppose foreign aid entirely.  I can see its use as a bargaining tool and I wholly support humanitarian support in times of crises.  But why would we commit to our law books this indiscriminate target that holds little public support and ignores the fluctuating state of world economies?

If the suggestion ever made it into law, which is overwhelmingly unlikely, it would be an exercise in legislative timewasting ahead of an election campaign, as any future government could choose to repeal at will.

In the post-2015 British political arena the belligerently anti-foreign aid UKIP will have taken a few seats and the Lib Dems are likely to be toast; the appetite for increasing aid spending will be even less than now. Perhaps this is why the Lib Dems are pushing it forward. 

If one was to be charitable, we might think that rather than a desperate cry of “love me! Please love me!” to the lentil-weaving flavour of lefties who are wavering towards the Greens, Nick Clegg’s bunch are deeply committed to international social justice and fearful that the next parliament may be full of sceptics.  Somehow, I doubt that.

What is undeniable is that the Lib Dems are committing that typically leftist fallacy of believing that an increase in spending equates to an increase in outcome. As 13 years of Labour governments has shown, throwing money at something does not produce results. 

All that a legally binding commitment to continue to throw money into “foreign aid” would do is ease the consciences of beleaguered social democrats while further propping up corrupt regimes and throwing British taxpayers’ money into the sea. 

The irony is that if the Lib Dems had more of a leading role in running Britain, with all the greenery and tax rises that would entail, then our GDP would probably fall and consequently our foreign aid spending would go down in flames too.  Fortunately, that is even less likely to happen than this proposal.