Last week, North Dorset MP Simon Hoare was named among the new Awkward Squad by the Spectator – a reference not only to the fact he has defied the Tory whip and voted against the move to cut the UK’s Foreign Aid budget down to 0.5 per cent of GDP, but also a reference to the ‘awkward squad’ of socialist trade unionists and rebel MPs in the early 2000s who were a thorn in the side of Blair’s Labour government.
Twenty-four Conservatives voted against the government including former Prime Minister Theresa May; former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell; defense committee chairman Tobias Ellwood; ex-Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt; and Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs committee.
Having previously discussed with Simon his policy of voting with his conscience, and his occasional need to defy the party line where he felt strongly, I wanted to know why he had decided at a time of enormous national debt that the £4bn reduction in aid was important enough to rebel on.
“Well, firstly I fail to see how voting to maintain the manifesto upon which we were elected makes me ‘awkward’!” said Simon
“for me, this is about many things. Firstly, this is not ‘charity’, it is helping fellow men and women. And for those quoting ‘charity begins at home’ at me, yes, of course we have terrible issues with poverty here in the UK too. But we also have a sophisticated raft of services to help. In other countries this aid is quite literally the difference between survival and death.
And whilst there’s never a right time to do it, now is utterly the wrong time.
Simon Hoare on Foreign Aid
“The UK has a long and proud history of charitable greatness – look at Live Aid, Children in Need, any natural disaster… We’re a nation which has giving in its DNA.
And I do not like the little tables of foreign aid rankings – just because X country does less, or X country does more should bear no relevance to our own actions.
There’s no prize, there’s no meaning to the feelgood rankings – we simply need to do the right thing for the right thing’s sake.
“Globally, the UK are a leader in humanitarian and peacekeeping aid: our example is followed, and via soft diplomacy places like Japan and the Middle East become involved and engaged. At a time when we are banging the drum for Global Britain, this move feels utterly self-defeating politically.”
Meeting the 0.7% figure was made law in 2015, and it is an internationally recognised target; charities such as Oxfam and ActionAid have warned that projects are being called off as a result of the cuts.
The Conservative’s decision to lock the foreign aid budget to 0.7% of GDPR was seen by many as a forward-thinking, progressive move, welcomed across the political spectrum as the right thing to do. Simon is dismayed at the back-pedalling
“It’s easy to be generous when times are good, but far more meaningful to give during tough times. We are the only member of the G7 reducing our commitment: and it’s a nonsense that defies the maths. We haven’t committed a specific amount, we’ve committed a percentage of GDP. Which literally means we give less during lean years – it’s already built in to the equation.
“To declare we cannot afford this, or to increase nurses pay, and yet we can spend over £200 million on a new Royal Yacht that even the Royal Family don’t want, is simply wrong.
“The decision is simply easy politics – and not only is it the wrong thing morally, on a political level I feel it will come back and bite us on the arse.”