Daniel Korski

Overseas aid could be a Tory winner in Con-Lib fights

Text settings

As the Conservatives start looking at areas where the Liberal Democrats are weak, or where differences can be drawn between the parties, they are honing in on international development.

In the Independent on Sunday, David Cameron and anti-poverty star Jeffrey Sachs lay out the party's plans if they win power. It includes a commitment to spending 0.7 of GDP on overseas aid, an emphasis "on greater transparency, ensuring the money reaches the people who need it most" and "action on women" as a conduit to development.

The op-ed is clearly inspired by the work of Tory aid spokesman, Andrew Mitchell, who has written a piece for ConservativeHome this evening. The only ex-soldier in the Shadow Cabinet, Mitchell has become an increasingly trusted interlocutor for many of Britain's most trusted development NGOs.

As such he has done more than most to rehabilitate the party's links with the development community and, by extension, help change its image as a nice, rather than nasty, party.

Clarifying differences with the Lib Dems on overseas aid may seem a bit odd to many. The Lib Dems have a strong development record and close ties to many NGOs. But the Lib Dem's spokesman Michael Moore seems to have done less innovative thinking on the issue than Mitchell and his team. Indeed, their development policy looks a little too much like one of DfID's earlier White Papers.

There are also clear differences between the parties for example on the potential effectiveness of multilateral aid programmes. And though I'm not in favour of ring-fencing DfID spending, the fact that the Tories have done and the Lib Dems seem not to have should play to the Conservative's advantage.

In many marginals it will be important for the Conservatives that voters do not switch to the Lib Dems. Those voters who might do so care about issues like overseas assistance, and a big dollop of the party's anti-poverty message could be helpful in persuading them that the Tories are for them and what they value.