Does Justine Greening enjoy being International Development Secretary? I ask only because while the text of her speech to the Conservative party conference contained a lengthy defence of aid spending, the minister managed to sound about as thrilled as someone who had just discovered their bus fare had gone up by 10p when she actually delivered it. If nothing else, the speech demonstrated that Andrew Mitchell was a loss to the case for ring-fencing the aid budget when he made his fateful journey from that department to the whips’ office. Mitchell always launched into an impassioned and compelling explanation of the liberal interventionist case for development spending. Meanwhile Greening is known to disagree with that target: today she hardly sounded like she had caught any passion or conviction for it after a year in the job.
Funnily enough, the bits of the speech when Greening did come alive were on her commitment to cutting down on wasteful aid spending, which this magazine has urged her to do since her appointment. She told delegates:
‘As a former Treasury minister I’m not instead in schemes or programmes that fail to make a long-term dent in extreme poverty. And I’ve taken decisions to exit aid programmes in countries that are successfully developing and able to invest for themselves, like India and South Africa.’
Perhaps Greening thinks that a sceptical conference will be better convinced of the case for aid spending by a focus on cutting out the waste, rather than its effects itself. But as Fraser explained a while back, it will always be difficult for sceptics to trust Greening’s department when it is forced to spend to a target.