Thursday, June 03, 2010

Time for another mutiny on the bounty

If charity begins at home and Britain faces cuts running into billions of pounds, why are we planning to increase spending on international aid to China?

Why, for that matter, are we planning to spend more money in India, which has one of the few booming economies left in the world?

Or Zimbabwe, which is run by Robert Mugabe, a dictator every bit as unpleasant as Saddam Hussein ever was?

Or the Pitcairn Islands, for that matter?

The coalition Government is adopting a slash and burn approach to public spending.

Thousands of jobs will go as Ministers struggle to bring down Britain’s massive debt from £163 billion.

We had a small taste of it this week when Chancellor George Osborne detailed how he would save a modest £6.2 billion this year.

Even that provoked howls of anguish – imagine how much more unpleasant things will get when Mr Osborne has had time to go through the books in more detail.

Yet international aid is safe. Actually not just safe – the Government plans to spend more money on it than ever before.

This year we are spending £9.1 billion. Ministers may think that’s a small price to pay for keeping Bono and Bob Geldof off their backs.

And of course vast swathes of the world are impoverished. People are dying of disease and starvation. Everybody should do what they can to help.

Except that large sums of aid end up in the hands of corrupt dictators and murderous warlords.

If we can’t afford to spend as much on welfare and schools at home, surely we should spend less abroad as well.

Yet in the Queen’s Speech the Government promised spending on international aid would carry on growing.

The speech declared piously: “We won’t balance the budget on the back of the world’s poorest people.”

This self-righteousness “will place Britain in a position of clear international leadership, encourage other countries to live up to their commitments and generate momentum ahead of September’s UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals”.

That’s all very nice and fluffy and will help International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield, sleep soundly in his bed at night.
But why protect international aid? Why, for example, are we spending £40.2 million in China?

China overtook Britain as an economic superpower in 2006 and will be second only to the USA by the end of this year.

It may be an undemocratic, dangerously unstable abuser of human rights but a few million quid from little Britain won’t change it.

Especially when some of the money we spend in China goes on teaching children to campaign against climate change.

Britain’s biggest financial commitment goes to India, which gets over half a billion pounds.

We’ve all seen “Slumdog Millionaire”. We know the divide between India’s rich and poor is enormous.

But India is already the world’s 12th largest economy and will, according to experts, overtake Britain within the next five years.

India is so rich its top industrialists come over to here to buy up what’s left of our manufacturing industry. To them, we’re the Third World, not the other way round.

Naturally, we spend hundreds of millions in Pakistan but we can’t even get them to promise not to torture people.

We’re spending £79 million teaching conservation farming techniques in Zimbabwe – a country which bans the BBC because its dictator wants to hide how he is destroying it.

Aid for Zimbabwe farmers wouldn’t be needed at all if Mr Mugabe hadn’t allowed the farms to be over-run and destroyed by machete-wielding thugs. Our money is keeping him in power.

Then there’s the Pitcairn Islands (pop 50), in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, home to descendants of the mutineers who kicked Captain Bligh off his ship, HMS Bounty.

Our £2 million pays for a prison to house six men jailed for sex abuse.

True, we give money to deserving causes as well. Places such as Hungary and Croatia, even Saudi Arabia have all been beneficiaries of our generosity.

It may be there was a time when we were so rich we could afford to spread our money around like a drinker at the Last Chance Saloon. You’d have thought those days were over.

The Government is using foreign aid as a reasonably cheap way of extending its appeal to bleeding-heart Liberals. Britain is now world leader in giving away taxpayers’ money to undeserving causes around the world.

Even when it goes to countries in desperate need, there’s every chance it will only make matters worse.

International aid worth billions has poured into Sudan yet the country is starving. Civil war in Darfur has left two million people homeless and killed maybe 200,000. It’s home to Al Qaeda’s terrorists.

Britain spent £54 million on Sudan’s elections earlier this year – and they were even less free and fair than our own.

Spending cuts may be necessary but they will be hard and unpleasant. Ministers need to think again about those parts of the world where they want to lavish even more of our money. Call it mutiny on the bounty.