Sending an ex-accountant to run the International Development department was always a bit of a risk, given that its remit – to spend as much as it can – inverts most notions of cost control. Today, the Daily Mail quotes friends of Justine Greening saying that she’ll be taking a long, hard look at just why we send a billion quid in aid to India when it can afford its own space programme, nuclear programme and overseas aid budget. She wants to do more with less, we’re told, just like her colleagues across Cabinet. And this will just be the start. If Greening applies dispassionate logical analysis to DfID she would likely conclude that its budget needs frozen. No10 have said this won’t happen, but the deficit reduction plan is now so off course that it may have to rethink.

As Transport Secretary, Greening will have seen officials run around all day wondering how they’ll cope with the massive cuts. In DfID she’ll have stepped into a parallel universe with her officials in a blind panic, because the Prime Minister wants to pass a law making it illegal for them to spend under £11 billion a year.

As I argued in the Daily Telegraph recently, the main Millennium Development Goal of of halving the proportion of the world’s population living on a dollar a day by 2015 was met in 2008, seven years ahead of schedule. You’d think that DFID would shout from the rooftops about this remarkable achievement. But it has been treated like an embarrassing secret, perhaps because this miracle had not been created by government aid but by the economic progress of China and India. Buying cheap electronic goods has, in a very real way, made poverty history in vast tracts of the third world. It has nothing to do with Mitchell’s Millions. The co-operation between peoples, not governments, is making the difference. Trade is working miracles, where aid still struggles to make a lasting difference.

The briefings which followed Greening’s ejection from Transport suggest she has never tried very hard to please the Cameroons. The Putney MP didn’t care for their proposed U-turn over Heathrow Airport, and seems to have made this clear. The impeccably-informed Danny Finkelstein said in his column that she got the shove because they saw her as “not the easiest minister to work with”. James Forsyth’s political column in this week’s Spectator shows even sharper criticism:-

There is little sympathy for her in No. 10. ‘She’ll have plenty of time to think about runways,’ one source told me, ‘as her flight to the next developing country circles the airport yet again.’

It is strange to Greening her being briefed against for sticking to her party’s manifesto and her coalition government’s agreement. But this does suggest that she has an independent mind. So how will she feel being asked to play the unusual, landmine-strewn and electorally unpopular game of Mitchell’s Millions? We’ll find out in the next few months.

UPDATE  I had just quoted two briefings against Justine Greening in the above piece. Thanks to Julie for pointing out the below tweets from Sam Coates from The Times – which, I have to say, only raise my opinion of her :-

@SamCoatesTimes Greening has “tantrums” and IDS is “robust”. Tory misogyny is breathtaking.

@SamCoatesTimes Justine Greening didn’t want International Development brief and told No10 she didn’t believe in the budget ringfence

@SamCoatesTimes By the way, I’m told the exact phrases used by Justine Greening to express her scepticism about aid and Dfid were extremely fruity and sharp

Tags: Autumn reshuffle 2012, International development, Justine Greening, UK politics