Beggars can’t be choosers. This wasn’t the reckoning that some Tory MPs – 45 or so ordinary men and women with the crazy idea that the government should be accountable to parliament for breaking a manifesto commitment – had had in mind. But once the Speaker had, the previous day, snuffed out an attempt to force a meaningful vote on plans to reduce the UK’s overseas aid by 28%, から 0.7% に 0.5 of gross domestic income, they had been left with little other choice. An emergency debate with a token vote at the end – if anyone could be bothered – would have to do.
場合 Andrew Mitchell, the former secretary of state for international development and nominal leader of the rebel alliance, was disappointed at the downgrade to yesterday’s story, he didn’t let it show. There again, it’s not every day a politician gets to grab the moral high ground. He began by praising the speaker for one of the “strongest statements from the chair” that he had ever heard the previous day.
How quickly John Bercow gets forgotten. The former speaker would have had a field day with the government ducking out of its commitments. In fact it’s odds on he would have allowed a meaningful vote the previous day regardless of whether he felt the proposed amendment was in the scope of the original bill. Just for the hell of it. He never could resist the chance to put himself centre stage and cause a bit of trouble.
Mitchell then declared that he wouldn’t be putting the debate to a vote. Why bother to put everyone through the hassle when it didn’t count for anything? Instead he just set out to embarrass the government by observing that on this matter it was the rebel. Everyone in the house had been elected on a manifesto of maintaining an overseas aid budget of 0.7% and it had been ボリス・ジョンソン and the chancellor that had effectively reneged on the promise. They were the ones who would have to explain to the electorate why they were happy for ten of thousands of people in the poorest countries to die.
Tory Bernard Jenkin briefly interrupted to say he was unconvinced by Mitchell’s argument and that there were lots of other things we were doing round the world to help make up the difference. It was just that he couldn’t think of any concrete examples off the top of his head. Mitchell merely invited Jenkin to stay for the rest of the three-hour debate to better inform himself. Within 15 minutes Bernie had left the chamber. He clearly has an aversion to self-improvement.
Mitchell ended by linking the cut to Johnson seeking popularity among “red wall” voters who didn’t like the idea of spending money overseas. This was deeply patronising, 彼は言った. Because repeated surveys had shown that red wall voters were consistently among the first to respond to global humanitarian disasters. Not for the first time the prime minister was in danger of misjudging the mood of the nation. Nor was it a great display of global leadership to be the only G7 country to cut aid during the pandemic. Especially when we were hosting the summit in Cornwall at the weekend.
It was left to Steve Barclay, chief secretary to the Treasury, to reply on the government’s behalf. Fair to say, he looked thoroughly miserable and pissed off throughout. Clearly several ministers had drawn lots to see who would get the gig and Barclay had picked out the short straw.
Visibly sulking, Barclay didn’t even try to put up much of a coherent defence. The best he could come up with was that the government had found more than £250bn to bail out the UK during the pandemic and something had to give. And that something was the £4bn difference between 0.5 そして 0.7%. That was the tipping point between the country making a full recovery and everyone in the UK being completely broke. Faced with the choice of letting some people in the UK get a bit peckish and a bunch of foreigners dying of malnutrition and disease, it was the foreigners every time.
It rapidly got worse for Barclay. First he couldn’t remember how much an extra 1p on income tax would raise and he then began to contradict himself. Thanks to the government’s superb handling of the crisis, the UK was on course to bounce back within a year and to not bounce back enough to restore the commitment to 0.7% anytime soon. He also just ignored Mitchell’s olive branch of writing the whole thing off as a moment’s aberration if overseas aid was restored to its legal limit the following year, which rather suggested that everything he had said about the pandemic was nonsense and that the cut was long-term government policy.
That wasn’t the end of Barclay’s pain though. Just as humiliating as making a fool of himself was having to listen to MP after MP from both sides of the house express their disgust at the UK being the only major developed country to cut spending during the global crisis. Unlike Bernie, he couldn’t run away. He was obliged to suck up the shame for the full three hours of the debate. The things he did for the little people …