Sunday, 5 June 2011

Dumb and dumber: John Major talks bollocks about foreign aid

I was going to give blogging a miss today to concentrate on watching Nadal massacre Federer in the French Open Tennis Final and get stuck into Thomas Sowell’s superb book, A Conflict of Visions – but then I read an article by Sir John Major about foreign aid in the Sunday Telegraph, and a familiar red mist descended. I gave up expecting our politicians to display a grasp of basic logic decades ago. But the depth of confusion in this former Prime Minister’s article, and in the accompanying comments by the Telegraph’s Political Editor verge on the grotesque. 

Here’s how Major sets out his higgledy-piggledy stall: “Of course these are tough times at home. But there are even greater hardships being suffered by those who live in the kind of abject poverty few of us can ever imagine.”

I give money to the British government so that it will protect my interests. In the event that I start worrying about poor people in foreign countries – whose suffering I didn’t cause or contribute to in any way - I can donate my money via my church or a host of aid organisations. I don’t need Sir John Major to tell me  that suffering exists in the world, and I don’t need my government spending my taxes to alleviate that suffering without asking me whether that’s how I would like it spent.

Here’s another chunk of what passes for John Major’s “thinking”:

“The UK is still, of course, one of the wealthiest economies in the world. Let me put this into context: there are around four million children in primary schools in England – but, in developing countries, twice this number die every year before their fifth birthday.”

Your would have to be on drugs or have suffered severe brain damage to imagine that there is any connection between these facts. Do English children take part in school trips whose primary purpose is to massacre Third World toddlers? Should we stop our children attending school in order to redress the appalling imbalance between domestic school attendance and child mortality rates in some foreign countries?

The mere fact that we, as a country, are wealthier than many others places no obligations on us whatsoever as a nation. Whether it places an obligation on me as an individual to do something about it is entirely for me to decide. It’s my conscience and my money.

“A child can be immunised against the killer childhood diseases for less than one would pay for a cup of coffee.” So what? I might prefer to spend my money on a cup of coffee. “No decent person would tolerate a British child dying from diarrhoea, yet this is a daily reality for thousands of families across the poor world.” If large numbers of British children were dying of diarrhoea, a “decent” person might blame their parents or the local council or the NHS or the government – or all of them. That person might not feel that it was in some way their responsibility to stop it happening.

The drivel just keeps on coming: “It is no surprise that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the high priests of global capitalism, have chosen to focus their vast philanthropic energies on tackling killer diseases in poor countries. If the private sector can do this, should not responsible government do so as well?”

Buffet and Gates are enormously wealthy individuals who can, within reason, spend their money how they like. Nothing to do with us. Many wealthy capitalists also spend money on luxury yachts, cocaine, prostitutes, football clubs and fleets of sports cars – does this mean governments should do the same? There’s also the minor point that people like Gates and Buffet have lots and lots of surplus money – they are in profit. The British Government spent all our money, and is now having to spend billions more trying to pay off the interest on our massive debts. It’s all very well being philanthropic when you’re a private individual with loads of wedge. When you’re a government with a massive debt, it makes no sense at all

“A much greater emphasis is being placed on using our aid to support the building blocks of wealth creation: private property rights: cutting back red tape and over-regulation to attract investors and support local entrepreneurs: and promoting free trade within Africa so as to unclog the arteries of trade and growth.” That’s great, John! Any chance we might do the same here in Britain? Withdraw from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, get rid of the minimum wage, cut taxes, destroy qangos, execute all Health and Safety inspectors – that would be a start.

“Aid tells the world our nation has a heart as well as a head.” Oh please, I’m going to be sick! Major then has the effrontery to speak of our “world-class Armed Forces” and “outstanding diplomats”. We’ve spent the past 15 years effectively destroying our armed forces and the idea that the world is awed by the incredible talent of our diplomats is simply risible. 

Sir John goes on to warn that if we don’t “invest in countries that are broken… we end up paying the price if [that] despair leads to terrorism, crime, mass migration and environmental devastation”. Well, we could always withdraw from the EU, thereby allowing us to halt immigration and reclaim the right to deport terrorists. And we could ask the police – nicely, of course – to stop acting as expensive social workers and get back to protecting us from bad people. 

“We, as a nation, should be proud that our humanity and generous spirit will reach every corner of the world – and we will all be the richer for that.” Richer? How exactly? And what makes this muddle-head fool assume that “we” will receive the slightest smidgin of credit from the people our money is supposed to be helping? The vile, kleptocrat, fascist leaders who have ensured continuing poverty in the countries they have by the throat won’t give a toss, that’s for sure. And those who might benefit on the ground will no doubt be fed the standard lies that their poverty is somehow the fault of rich Western democracies. (“rich”, of course, is relative - any fool can appear rich if they manage to borrow enough money.)

Britain spends a greater portion of Gross National Income on foreign aid than France, Germany or America. If our government could demonstrate that this was somehow helping to turn poor countries into self-sustaining democracies underpinned by the rule of law, or if we could be shown the balance sheets that proved that British companies were somehow benefitting from the taxpayers’ largesse – and that this in turn was benefitting us – then maybe your average taxpayer might be persuaded that their money was being spent wisely. But of course that sort of proof won’t be forthcoming, because neither of those things is happening.

Patrick Hennessy, the Sunday Telegraph political editor, sheds some light on our current Prime Minister’s passion for throwing away our money: “…for Mr Cameron, the pledge on aid is vital – both personally and politically. In strategic terms, the decision to ring-fence the Whitehall budgets for development and the health service were key to his mission to change his party’s brand from the “nasty party” to one which spoke for the mainstream.”

And how magnificently Cameron’s strategy worked last year in securing the Tories a landslide election victory against possibly the most unpopular Prime Minister in Britain’s history. Oh, hang on - I’ve just remembered: the strategy failed dismally. And yet, as Hennessy tells us, “[Foreign aid] is a battle with his own side that the Prime Minister is determined to win.” 

Not for the first time since this intellectually vacuous, illogical, gutless excuse for a government came to power, I have absolutely no idea what motivates them - apart, evidently, from a deep desire to piss off every one of their natural supporters.


  1. Obviously, not an entirely original suggestion, but would it not save large sums of money [and reduce bank profits] in terms of legal and administrative fees if the 0.7% of our GDP ["ring-fenced"] were paid directly to the accounts of Mercedes-Benz, Parisian "haute cuture" conglomerates like Chanel or to various Swiss clinics specializing in "Treatment for Cannibals and the Murderously Insane". Otherwise, does any interference by [sorry, I have forgotten the latest acronym of this government department. Like my latest savings bond] mean that it will be syphoned off to Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe. Or am I being terribly naive? I voted Tory in the belief that this crap would be cleared up.

    I am desperately trying to remember the name of that ghastly woman - lock-jawed, looked like proud Geronimo - who ran this disaster under the last lot in order to make a cheap joke. Better left.
    Monday, June 6, 2011 - 02:39 PM

  2. DfID – department for international development
    Clare Short
    Monday, June 6, 2011 - 02:49 PM

  3. I once directed a live talk show in some Northern craphole featuring Clare Short. It won't surprise you to learn that this modern Mrs Jellyby was stunningly horrible to everyone. It always struck me as odd that someone who was always droning on about our responsibility to children in Africa, and how horribly callius and uncaring all Tories were, should have put her own son up for adoption. If I remember correctly, when he eventually identified her as his mother (poor bloke!) he turned out to be a Tory-voting solicitor.
    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - 10:15 PM

  4. I am not inconsiderably disappointed and I have made a note to that effect in my yellow spiral-bound notebook from Rymans with the world's timezones in the inside front cover revealing that all of India is 5½ hours ahead.

    Having supplied the missing data in SDG's post it seemed to me by now that we would have heard his Clare Short joke even if it is best left unsaid.

    Geronimo was an Apache, of course, whereas Ms Short looks more like a Comanche to me.
    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - 11:47 PM

  5. According to to-day's DTelegraph [10 June] documents from the French Fraud body [OCRDGF] published in Le Monde the embezzlement of public funds in countries like Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea continues on an industrial scale.

    One example. Teodoro Obiang, son of EG's President and current African Union President, spent [in Nov 2009] Euros 12m on 7 Ferraris, 4 Mercedes, 5 Bentleys, 4 Rolls Royces, 2 Bugattis, 1 Lamborghini and 1 Maserati. In 2011 he bought another Lamborghini and Maserati for Euros 1.5m [perhaps he wrote the originals off?]. At the same time Obiang bought Euros 18.5 worth of artworks from the Yves St Laurent collection to decorate his Malibu mansion and Parisian apartment.

    To-day's Spectator [Barometer Section] also also gives examples of how overseas aid is spent:
    - £350,000 to help Ugandan bamboo farmers switch to other crops
    - £200,000 for the National Taxpayers Association in Kenya's Rift Valley
    - £ 2.7m to Moldova to "develop a medium-term expenditure framework to help balance its budget".
    - £89m to help establish crab fisheries in Zanzibar. [That's a lot of crab sticks. Why don't they throw in Hellman's Mayo plant?]

    I won't crack my Clair Short joke. It would be ungallant. Although she does have a face like a slab of condemned veal.
    Friday, June 10, 2011 - 08:19 PM