Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Save the Children turns Tory

Yesterday the Tories released their green paper on international development. It was pretty horrendous - a mix of ideological free market nonsense and silly gimmicks. The gimmicks included the suggestion that the public might vote for their favourite international development projects and only these would get money. Luckily this sounds like one of those stupid suggestions that we won't hear about again.

The support for trade liberalisation and privatisation is corporate welfare dressed up as development policy, but no more than you would expect from the Tories. More of a departure, and arguably therefore more worrying is the idea of 'aid vouchers' and assisted places at private schools - in other words, shifting aid money directly to private businesses.

The cherry on the top of the cake, by the way, was the Tory assertion that capitalism is Britain's gift to the world. As Nick Dearden of the Jubilee Debt Campaign commented "Given the problems which the unregulated global economy has recently subjected the world to, many countries might prefer to be removed from the Christmas list."

Most self-respecting development charities condemned the aid vouchers as a very bad idea, and many also rejected the other free market nonsense. Not so Save the Children, who hosted the launch of the Green Paper at their offices, and whose chief executive wrote a friendly comment piece in the Times yesterday in support of David Cameron's ring-fencing aid spending. The aim was clearly to position Save the Children as the Tories' international development charity, just as Oxfam was Labour's.

Not surprising, perhaps, given how much of Save the Children's budget comes from government, and will therefore be dependent on Tory favour if (when?) they win the next election. But problematic nonetheless, not least because its a pattern replicated across the NGO sector, albeit less obviously and less successfully. Despite being generally progressive in some way, the talk in charity-world has been for a good while that the 'smart money' is on 'engaging' with the Tories now.

Yet despite the fact that this has been going on, the Tories still come out with awful right-wing guff like this Green Paper. And they'll do it in government too. We need to be building a movement against them, not a dialogue with them - that way we might be able to replicate what's happened in France, where some of the most agregious of Sarkosy's policies have been headed off my social mobilisation. But there's no chance of that happening if NGOs avoid public criticism of the Tories, let alone giving 'development cover' to their anti-development policies as Save the Children are.

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