Saturday 2 February 2013

IF revelations... embarrassing yes, possibly counterproductive?

Politics is a funny old game. It leads to unexpected alliances and, as we’ve seen in the UK recently, strains among partners.

Now it seems the large aid NGOs have become embroiled in an odd situation, which threatens to fragment the voices on the future of development just at the time when a coherent voice is arguably most needed.

The story seems to be thus: the large BOAG (British Overseas Aid Group) NGOs wanted to launch a campaign this year, which for a long time was widely known informally as “Make Poverty History II” but has since been labelled “If..”, complete with slick marketing materials and a focus on food, using four lenses of tax, land, aid and transparency. They wanted it to be this year in order to dominate the agenda of the UK’s Presidency of the G8, and influence the course of the High Level Panel on post-2015, of which of course the UK Prime Minister is co-chair. But it seems the campaign was actually planned in minute detail with Government officials who thus helped shape the nature of it. Which raises the pretty obvious question of why it is called a “campaign” at all since its primary target has itself helped shape its agenda, and therefore already shares its aims.

This was suspected by a number of organisations who would normally be part of a campaign such as this, but who have decided not to as a result of its perceived closeness to the UK Government. They point to the credit the campaign routinely bestows on David Cameron, and it was a Freedom of Information request from War on Want that obtained documents revealing just how much the campaign was jointly planned. Unsurprisingly the Trades Union movement has largely kept its distance too.

It’s all turned a bit nasty with War on Want criticising what they see as basically a sell-out. They are:
“..particularly concerned that the IF campaign in promoting a false image of David Cameron and the UK government as leading the fight against global hunger, at a time when nothing could be farther from the truth. A number of the aid agencies at the centre of the IF campaign have already praised the UK prime minister for his “leadership role” in holding a hunger event with Mo Farah and other celebrities at the end of the London 2012 Olympics”
Which brings the rather catty response from the IF campaign:
“Let’s acknowledge that when charities start falling out with each other over the organisation of their campaigns, we risk coming across to the public and to policy-makers like the Judean People’s Front arguing with the People’s Front of Judea in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. That’s regrettable”.
Well, yes. But replying to what seems on the face of it to be a fairly legitimate complaint with language like that is probably not going to do much for Judean national unity.

IF had the sort of launch in the House of Commons that lobbyists working in Westminster dream of – a packed room, addressed by each of the main party leaders, and introduced by the Secretary of State for International Development. Which itself took place after an event at Somerset House that wouldn't have looked out of place at a Hollywood awards dinner. Serious cash was splashed. Following the event one of the leaders of the campaign, Brendan Cox said on social media that he thought he’d witnessed the aid industry “shifting from defence to offence”, before jetting off to the High Level Panel on post-2015 in Monrovia.

I have a lot of sympathy for where those behind IF found themselves. Because their real target isn’t actually David Cameron at all – it’s the people who sit behind him, and as we saw farcically last week, are in many cases actively plotting against him. They don’t like this aid agenda one little bit. So the IF campaign is largely about giving Cameron cover from his own side, which is presumably why the Government was so keen to help.

I understand that. Everyone can understand that. But it might be that in flying so close to the sun, and getting their wings burnt by some embarrassing documents, they’ve undermined that central objective already.

Which is a shame.

1 comment:

  1. Make Poverty History gave Gordon Brown the political cover he needed for aid. I hope If works similarly. This is intelligent NGO campaigning.