Penny Mordaunt has been appointed the new International Development Secretary after Priti Patel was forced to resign on 9th November. The resignation came after a string of unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials, including in the politically sensitive region Golan Heights.
Will Patel will be missed by DfID officials? She belongs to a group of Conservative party politicians rumoured to want the department to be folded back into the Foreign Office and for the pledge to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid to be cut. A quarter of all aid money is now being spent by other government departments, and ministers are now shared with the Foreign Office. According to Steve Bloomfield in Prospect magazine, Patel’s leadership is part of the reason for morale being the lowest it has ever been among civil servants in the department.
With Priti Patel leaving, the door was open for the Prime Minister to appoint someone with a passion for the brief who could re-energise the department. A strong supporter of the UK’s aid budget commitment of 0.7% of gross national income would have sent a clear message to the department and the wider development community. Rory Stewart would perhaps have been an appropriate choice, given his experience in the diplomatic service, where he governed two provinces in Iraq, as well as his work in Afghanistan where he set up Turquoise Mountain, an NGO. Alistair Burt, the Minister of State for International Development and the Middle-East at the Foreign Office also deserves a mention. Nicky Morgan too, is an experienced politician, having served in government, and voiced her support for the UK’s aid budget recently, arguing for increased investment in water and sanitation.
Despite this, there were reports that May was under pressure from the Europhobe wing of her party and the right-wing press (who have been hostile to foreign aid) to appoint a Brexiteer. May made time for a banquet celebrating the Daily Mail editor’s 25 years in the role on the night of Priti Patel’s resignation. Then Mordaunt was appointed.
Judging by her tone in the build up to the EU referendum, DfID officials will probably be sceptical about Mordaunt. She suggested that Turkey was about to join the EU and seized on the Leave campaign’s anti-immigrant tone. She hardly seems like the global citizen that would be welcomed by the development community.
The appointment of Mordaunt is a missed opportunity to reconcile with the more socially liberal wing of the Conservatives and the UK as a whole. Appointing a Remainer could have sent positive signals to the more progressive and younger voters that the Conservatives lost in the general election. That May did not take this opportunity, suggests perhaps she is being held hostage by a coalition of pro-Brexit MPs, party donors and the right-wing press – who recently tried to discredit universities by accusing them of influencing students to support Remain.
The episode begs the question: are people are being appointed to government posts solely because they are suitable, or must they be loyal Brexiteers as well? Without someone who will boost the department, the very existence of DfID is at risk, with the Foreign Office looking to take more control, and another Secretary of State happy to allow the department’s decline.
What do you think?
Read Penny Mordaunt’s article for the Daily Telegraph here
Read the full article in Prospect magazine The war on aid: the hidden battle inside Priti Patel’s own department
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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