Editorial - Government too mired in foreign field to act on aid

Lucy Maggs

The new Spanish government has already announced that it will pull its troops out of Iraq by the end of this month, and committed to dramatically increasing its international aid budget.

This sits in stark contrast to the UK Government, which has firmly stated it has no intention of pulling out of Iraq and has not ruled out the possibility of sending in more troops.

This Government's policies on foreign affairs, and its insistence on following the US lead on the Middle East have proven unpopular with many - aid agencies have been extremely critical and, last week, Tony Blair faced a damaging attack from distinguished former diplomats on his policies on Iraq and Israel.

The UK Government has, however, managed to redeem itself to some extent through increasing its spend on international aid dramatically over the past four years. But it now seems that even on this front the Government is starting to slip, and the UK is soon to be outstripped by European neighbours such as Spain, France and Belgium, in terms of increasing aid budgets.

While there seems little hope of the Government letting go of US coat-tails when it comes to the Middle East - last week, Tony Blair gave his backing to the controversial assault on Falluja - the Government has a chance to pick itself up on aid spending. The UN adopted an aid goal of 0.7 per cent of GNI in 1970, which has so far been met by five European countries while three others have set target dates. Campaigners argue that to achieve the Millennium Development Goals aimed at halving world poverty by 2015, the Government needs to hit the 0.7 per cent target by 2008 - which at current rates seems unlikely.

Considering the flagging public support for much of its foreign policy, maybe the Government should get on with it.

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