Melanie Phillips

23 May 2011

Boo me if you like, but it's time to ignore the bleeding hearts and shut down the ministry of foreign aid

Published in: Daily Mail

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Sometimes, public opinion erupts in ways you least expect. Last Thursday, I took part in  BBC TV’s Question  Time programme, which was conducted in an atmosphere of keen anticipation.

On the panel was the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. Since he was in hot water over his injudicious remarks about rape a couple of days earlier, it was expected there would be fireworks over this issue. In the event, the discussion about penal policy was rather muted.

It was a quite different topic that touched a nerve that evening — overseas aid, and whether its budget should be ring-fenced.

I remarked that not only did I think it was wrong to increase this budget when other public spending was being cut back, but that most overseas aid was harmful; that it perpetuated Third World poverty and oppression by propping up tyrants, who as a result were able to murder and enslave even more of their suffering populations.  

So bad was this problem, I added, that I thought the Department for International Development should be shut down altogether.

The reaction to this was somewhat unexpected. The audience booed me. Not for the first time, however, those making the most noise (a faint cheer went up for me as well) did not seem to represent the views of the wider public.

For since that show, I have been deluged by passionate messages of support — including from some professionals involved with overseas aid — with only a very few expressing any dissent.

Not only that, but when a columnist in yesterday’s Observer expressed horror at my remarks, many of the online readers’ messages even to this Left-wing newspaper were in my favour.

It would seem that the politically canny Defence Secretary Liam Fox knew what he was doing when he protested to the Prime Minister — in a letter that was somehow leaked to the Press — at the proposal to enshrine in law the increase in overseas aid spending,

For this is one of those issues that seems to have got under people’s skin. Almost certainly this is because, when public spending is being cut, people think it is wrong for the overseas aid budget to be increased by around one third.

This increase happens to be roughly the amount which is being taken away from the defence budget. With British forces fully extended in Afghanistan and Libya — whatever one may think of these conflicts — it seems positively obscene to be spending more on overseas aid.

It’s even more bonkers when you consider that bankrupt Britain is borrowing enormous sums from parts of the Third World, such as China and the Middle East, only to give away enormous sums to other parts, such as Africa and Asia.

Cue a hurricane of harrumphing, humbug and hypocrisy from the world champions in selective sanctimoniousness — self-styled ‘progressives’ whose hearts bleed most profusely for those about whose actual lives they know next to nothing.

To such people, overseas aid has totemic significance because it advertises their own virtue in possessing a conscience. 

This is why Mr Clarke said on the show — to a burst of applause — that Britain’s overseas aid commitment showed it was a civilised country.

Talk about totally missing the point!

Of course, wealthy nations should help others. And in cases of natural disaster — tsunami or earthquake, for example — the Government should certainly provide instant financial and other relief.

But the point about overseas aid in general is that very little of it goes to help the poor and oppressed at all — quite the reverse.

The chief recipient of British aid is India. Yet India is rich enough to afford a space programme, nuclear programme and even its own foreign aid programme. How ridiculous is this?

Aid programmes do little to tackle the root causes of Third World poverty, which are overwhelmingly the behaviour of tyrannical regimes depriving individuals  of democracy and human rights.

Instead, such programmes foster yet more destitution and corruption. Indeed, such need is often manipulated or even created by tyrants or warlords in order to obtain the aid that then enables them to kill and enslave even more people and prop up their corrupt, brutal regimes.

For example, in Rwanda, where the Hutu tribe massacred millions of Tutsis in the Nineties, the Hutus stole as much as 60 per cent of the Western aid and then levied a tax on food rations to pay their militias and thus continue murdering the Tutsis.

Similarly, in Sudan, where two million were slaughtered in the Eighties and Nineties, the army that committed these atrocities fed itself on food aid that it stole, and which thus kept the genocide going.

Absurdly, the Prime Minister claims overseas aid is a good investment because it reduces terrorism. But refugee camps all over the world have turned into paramilitary or terrorist strongholds.

One of the biggest recipients of British aid is Pakistan, which in return has played host to the training camps that have processed countless British Islamist terrorists.

Palestinian refugee camps are the major breeding ground for Palestinian terrorism.

And in Afghanistan, a secret U.S. government report has revealed that nearly £1billion of international aid has gone missing through institutionalised corruption.

The Department for International Development has blocked further British aid there — but not before millions of pounds apparently vanished into a corrupt Afghan black hole.

 And now we learn, to our further stupefaction, that the BBC is also in the aid business.

A little-known charity run by the BBC is spending more than £15million a year on aid projects, including educating Africa on climate change and a romantic soap opera for Indian radio.

 The charity, the BBC World Service Trust, employs nearly 600 staff. Last year, it reportedly spent more than £28million on ‘changing lives through media and communication’.

Rub your eyes. This is the same BBC that is decimating its World Service output on the grounds that it has no money! And what price BBC impartiality, if it is not just a commentator on the developing world but also a major player in its development (or lack of it)?

Almost certainly, it would not even occur to the BBC that there can be any argument against this because it subscribes to the progressive ‘group-think’ that believes there can be no argument at all against international aid.

That’s because such folk are incapable of acknowledging that the Third World does terrible things to its own people; they believe instead that it is invariably the victim of the West.

So overseas aid has little to do with relieving the plight of the oppressed. It is instead about alleviating Western guilt and parading consciences on sleeves.

And it has also given rise to the serried ranks of NGOs which, along with human rights law firms, surely furnish the coolest of employment opportunities for the status-conscious liberal.

So when faced with the evidence of the grotesque abuse of aid, the Western progressive resolutely looks the other way.

The public’s striking reaction during the past few days shows they have had enough of being first fleeced in this way — and then smeared as callous flint-hearts when they object. It is yet another stand by the silent majority against our posturing and out-of-touch elites. And once again, politicians ignore this grass-roots protest at their peril.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie