Thursday 4 February 2016
Cameron giveth - and Cameron taketh away.
David Cameron is to be congratulated in helping to initiate, and to host, the London Conference which has pledged a total of $10bn to help refugees from war-torn Syria, and in particular to ensure that as many as possible of the displaced children receive an education.
Cameron is also correct to emphasise the importance of helping those refugees displaced to camps near Syria rather than concentrating only on those who have made perilous journeys and entered, or are on the borders of, the EU. As a contributor to the BBC Radio 4 programme " Start the Week" last week (still available here) pointed out, those who have made the journey are not only among the most courageous refugees, but also the wealthiest who can afford the payments to the people-traffickers: there are many equally deserving cases back in the camps without these advantages. Unfortunately Cameron talks in terms of "either-or" whereas, in all humanity, we must cope with both.
Cameron boastfully reminds us that Britain is already the second largest donor to the Syrian Refugee cause, and that the additional £1.7bn he now promises (but over four years) will more than double our present contribution.
However, if I heard the BBC News correctly, this extra money is to come from the existing aid budget - the 0.7% of GDP we are so proud of achieving. So it is to be money taken from that which would otherwise be used to help others in poverty-stricken situations.
My father and his brothers were very fond of quoting a ditty:
It's the poor that helps the poor
When poverty knocks at the door.
. . .maybe from a Victorian or Edwardian music-hall song .
That seems to be an apt description of Britain's "extra" contribution.
I admit there is a certain logic to this, but I would be prouder, in these exceptionally distressing circumstances, if, rather than a transfer, this had been additional money raised from those of us who can easily afford it by:
an extra 1p on one of the income;
2p on a litre of petrol or diesel;
the proceeds of a tax on sugar;
1p on a pint of beer of 2p on a bottle of wine:
or a 0.01% capital transfer tax.:
or scrapping prestige projects such as HS2 or Trident
There are plenty of possibilities