Man does not live by Trident alone
What is it with these Tories?
Yes, His Grace is most definitely one; and, yes, he is as concerned as the next man (or woman) about aircraft carriers without aircraft, helicopters without rotors and guns without bullets.
But not to the extent that the world’s poorest should pay for it.
It is disappointing - and some may say not unsurprising - that a ConservativeHome survey reveals that 70 per cent of Conservative Party members oppose the cut in defence by 2.3bn (-8%) at a time when the Government is increasing overseas aid by £2.7bn (+37%). (Though how ConHome know that these are party members is unknown: it appears to be taken on trust).
One wonders if they bothered to consider that the defence budget in 2011 will be £35.7bn while that for overseas aid will be £9.4bn.
Or what proportion of total public expenditure (£702bn) these figures represent.
Or that the Government (ie we) will pay £43.3bn of gross government debt interest this fiscal year followed by £46.5bn in 2011.
And one also wonders if they bothered to consider for a moment that spending on overseas aid may actually mitigate the need for future military intervention through conflict prevention or help to deter the ‘export’ of terrorism or opium to these shores.
The prioritisation of aid over defence is not simply a question of political economics but of moral justice.
Charity does not begin at home: it is the plainest teaching of the New Testament that it begins with one’s neighbour (eg Lk 10:27-37).
And throughout the Old Testament, we are exhorted certainly to look after our own widows and orphans, but these are rarely divorced from the divine command to show compassion to the ‘alien’ or ‘stranger’ (ie foreigner), which the Jews considered a moral duty (eg Deut 10:18f cf Mt 25:44).
British national defence is not about myopic fortress introspection, but the vigilant guarding of those liberties and values which have been bequeathed over the centuries and for which many millions have laid down their lives. It is not about phallic potency and grandstanding, but of humility in the pursuit of the national interest and gratitude for great mercies. It is not about the protection of private property; it is about the preservation of a way of life.
And that way of life happens to value the ethic of private property as much as it consists of missionary philanthropy and humanitarian charity.
Yes, a lot of aid is siphoned off into the corrupt coffers of evil dictators to prop up their sub-Saharan sensual superfluity. But that is no fault of poor. It is for the rich to devise better systems of delivery to ensure that aid reaches those who are most in need, rather than simply give up. The promotion of what has become known as ‘social justice’ should be a primary moral imperative for any government. While His Grace prefers the phrase ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ (for these reasons), both are essentially concerned with putting the plight of the poor at the heart of the national debate and making a material response.
The freedom and fraternity which constitute our social fabric are fragile entities. But, insofar as these persist and are considered good, it is incumbent upon us to manifest them to those who have neither. Jesus did not only preach to the crowds, he fed them. He understood that you can’t talk about micro-credit to those with empty bellies.
Of course, the Government should strengthen the national economy, keep interest rates low, balance the budget and maintain equilibrium between the strength of sterling and unemployment.
But the British political context for all of these macro-economic interests is positively utopian compared to the world’s poorest nations.
If charity begins at home, our community and nation are deprived.
When we prioritise the world’s poorest and most destitute, justice may flow like a river.
The decision to increase the budget for International Development is a fundamentally Christian ethic.
It is about feeding the starving, healing the sick, housing the poor and educating the illiterate.
If any Conservative would rather hug a Harrier than help the destitute, he or she must be devoid of conscience.
George Osborne said: “Britons can hold their heads up high and say even in these difficult times, we will honour the promises made to some of the poorest people on our planet.”
The extra aid will halve the deaths from malaria, save the lives of 50,000 pregnant women and 250,000 babies.
We should be proud that George Osborne has made the UK the first country in the world to hit the United Nations target of donating 0.7 per cent of its national income to the world’s poor by 2013.
Righteousness exalts a nation.