International development has been one of the totemic policy areas which David Cameron chose to show how he was changing his party. As a result, just as a promise to increase spending on the NHS was used to argue that the party was changing in its attitude to public services, so too a commitment to increase spending on international aid was used to argue that the party was leaving behind its ‘nasty party’ roots.
Whatever your view on the motivations or scale of those changes, it means the Conservative Party has ended up with a policy on international development which in many respects is similar to traditional Liberal Democrat concerns. The key area of potential tension is the Conservative desire to link up international aid much more closely with foreign policy and security – which could mean humanitarian concerns playing second fiddle to diplomatic ones. The coalition document leaves the future on this unclear as, despite a range of attractive sounding safeguards (including keeping aid untied from commercial interests), plenty of scope is left for this central Conservative concern to be followed through.
What the section does do is give a long list of policies that sit comfortably with Liberal Democrats, including pledging to meeting the 0.7% overseas aid target, supporting the Millennium Development Goals, tackling maternal and infant poverty, relieving the debts of the most indebted poor countries, promoting international agreement to curb arms sales and reviewing what action can be taken over vulture funds.
However, that possible difference of approach over how to use international aid, combined with the absence of a Liberal Democrat from the department, means this policy area could yet become one of disagreement.