David Cameron probably let out a sigh when he was informed that yet another letter from
Liam Fox had been leaked to the press. And when the Defence Secretary called No 10, as he undoubtedly did, to do his now-familiar Captain Renault routine, the Prime Minister can be excused for
feeling a little frustrated. For the debates that have "http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/6950523/leak-shows-that-fox-objects-to-plans-to-spend-more-on-overseas-development.thtml">occurred in consequence miss a number of key points.
The PM believes in overseas development – believes it is right, believes it is useful. No doubt he may find it useful to “decontaminate” the Tories but would not have been willing
to spend 0.7 percent of GDP for something he did not believe in. This morning on BBC News, Anne McElvoy rehearsed an argument she first made in the Spectator in early 2008: that Britain would be,
and is now, run by a generation of post-Cold War, socially liberal politicians. The Tory leader belongs to this generation and a commitment to helping the world’s poor is what this cohort
believes in, whatever party they are from.
But the PM does not only think aid is good for its own sake. As Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has argued before:
“Let’s not be too coy about it: this is also good for us here in Britain. If we want to find a more resilient solution to terrorism and failed states, stem the flow of economic
migrants to our shores and tackle the scourge of the drugs trade and cross-border crime, we must promote development and security around the world.”
What has been so impressive about the way DfiD is now run is how the department that was built as an NGO is being forced to work more closely with the Ministry of Defence and focus on how to reduce
the incidence of conflict in areas that are crucial to UK interests. In fact, as a recent World Bank report has noted, the UK is at the forefront of the debate, with others like the USAID emulating
In the final instance, the letter will not matter much. The PM’s commitment to the 0.7 target will stand as it is. Those who were sceptical of the nature of the commitment will see that he
and the Development Secretary are willing to push back against those who are instinctively more sceptical of overseas aid. Dr. Fox, in fact, supports the 0.7 target, just not legislating for it.
But he will lose this argument too. Fox will look good to some in the party, but self-serving to others. Life goes on.