David Blackburn

A tale of two statesmen and a wary industry

A tale of two statesmen and a wary industry
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The only readable part of Tony Blair’s Lawrentian romp of a memoir, is the epilogue. He explains why the state must be trimmed in the future and how globalisation is affecting global polities, and all expressed with languid charm and an air of self-deprecation which he has acquired on the road to riches. No wonder he’s the toast of Washington, the UN and Beijing – he’s the model of the Modern English Gentleman, a real pukka sahib.

Gordon Brown, meanwhile, has travelled to the UN to attend a meeting on tackling poverty. After a decade of enduring Bono at his most self-righteous, poverty is not yet history. Aid agencies and campaigners, wary of aid fatigue, are asking what went wrong. It seems that humanity could not realise its expectations. According to aid specialist Phil Vernon, the Millennium Development Goals were ‘laudable but the wrong measures’. Simply too ambitious. (An alternative analysis is doing the rounds at DfID. So much of the developing world is submerged in conflict: 22 of the 34 countries that have not attained their MDGs have been conflicted for the past decade or more. These countries never had the chance to develop under the barbarism of extremists and the yoke of dictators.)

MDGs include the bare minimum indications of progress: reducing starvation and child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV, malaria and waterborne disease.  The politicians who introduced them and signed-off lucrative aid packages are piqued at the aid industry’s sudden run for cover. But where Tony would twinkle, Gordon bellows. The BBC reports that Brown is ‘angry’ (and we know what that means) that richer countries did not pull their weight in the good times.

It’s an odd enough statement from the former chancellor without the bellicose confrontation. I doubt the aid industry wants to tell impecunious taxpayers that Gordon Brown thinks they were tight-fisted, and it’s essentially their fault that Somalia remains benighted. Aid budgets will increase, but as an agent of foreign policy securing unstable parts of the world. Brown has not grasped that there is more to aid expenditure than philanthropy.