Conservative Promises

David Cameron is widely expected to become Britain’s next prime minister. Plenty of people in the world of international development worry that a Conservative British government will be less committed to international aid than the current Labour government. So the surprise appearance that Cameron made last night at an event at the World Economic Forum in Davos may have been particularly significant.

He turned up at a dinner discussion, moderated by Matthew, for many of the leading figures in the campaign to eradicate malaria, including the head of the Global Fund, Jeffrey Sachs – the economic guru behind the Millennium Development Goals, Bob Orr – an assistant secretary general of the United Nations – the head of the London office of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Jimmy Wales – the founder of Wikipedia – Jamie Drummond – a co-founder of Bono’s campaigning organisation One – as well as French former soccer star Emmanuel Petit.

Cameron’s appearance was brief but emphatic. He said that however financially broke Britain is, his government would honour its pledge to allocate 0.7% of GDP to international aid. Malaria is particularly important, as it is a disease against which massive progress can be made over the next 3-5 years. It is crucial that this progress happens, said Cameron, so that it can be used to prove to the British public that, particularly on health, aid works.

He left to loud applause. Sachs promptly said that he believed Cameron – who had told him the same thing two years before. The consensus in the room was that the Conservative leader was being sincere. Certainly, if he is not, he picked a particular bad audience to lie to. On the other hand, his willingness to be so unequivocal in making what he called ‘one of our few clear cut proposals on anything’ before such a powerful group may earn him some influential public support from people who would not seem to be natural Conservative sympathisers. Interesting.