The thoughtful leader in today’s Guardian suggests it’s a good time to survey reactions to last week’s launch of the IF campaign, and with it the state of the international development debate itself. As well as the critiques of the campaign’s policy content from Deborah and Owen described in the previous post, commentators from elsewhere in the sector reflected on the need to rethink charity campaigning in the politically charged context of austerity Britain. AlertNet’s Maria Caspani found herself disturbed by the “cliché” of celebrity endorsement at the Somerset House launch event, while Leni Wild and Sarah Mulley expressed concern that aid and the G8 could seem an “outmoded” throwback to the Make Poverty History campaign of 2005. The Guardian fashioned an opinion poll out of a question from Lawrence Haddad’s IDS blog, asking whether NGOs had made clear what they would do differently to end world hunger. The LSE’s Charlie Beckett reflected on the importance of honesty and integrity in NGO communications with a public that is increasingly sceptical of them.
War on Want put up its own statement on the IF campaign’s politics at the end of last week, questioning its endorsement of the G8 as committed to ending global hunger and its (equally unconvincing) promotion of David Cameron as leading the fight for social justice. The true extent of the collaboration between the aid agencies and the UK government has revealed itself not only in the documents released under FOI challenge from the Information Commissioner’s Office, but also in ministerial reactions to the launch. Cameron’s video statement embracing the IF campaign is entirely logical, given the almost messianic billing he is given in its policy document. Following up on the prime minister’s Davos speech, Justine Greening professes the government’s commitment to the campaign’s call for tax justice in yesterday’s Sindy; the reality, as ActionAid can remind other IF members, is somewhat different.
Make Poverty History struggled with the threat of government cooption, as it proved easy for the then Labour administration to appropriate the campaign’s language while doing little to change policy on the structural issues of the global economy. The agencies behind IF run a far greater risk by choosing to choreograph the campaign so closely with government from the start. While such a strategy allows NGOs to boast great influence, as the powers that be are seen to sign up to ‘their’ agenda, it risks legitimising a political elite that has unashamedly championed the interests of the 1% against the rest. For some agencies, that is clearly not a consideration. But we know that others are already very uneasy at the Pandora’s box they’ve opened.