Last night Sky News hosted the second UK Prime Minister’s debate, this time with an intended focus on “global issues.” The pre-selected questions presented by the audience to Brown, Cameron and Clegg covered Britain’s participation in the EU, security policy, immigration, climate change, the Pope’s impending visit, and the economy.
I was a little irritated that there wasn’t a question about aid or their general views on international development. This might be the moderator’s fault for selecting questions that leaned more towards domestic issues (for example immigration policy had already been discussed in the previous debate).
But maybe the real reason is less palatable – maybe there weren’t very many questions on development in the first place? Maybe Sky – and the candidates – prefer questions that offer them the largest possible gains in terms of votes.
Development/aid bloggers, advocates and practitioners are frequently concerned with making aid organisations accountable to the taxpayers, but we’ve little evidence that the electorate considers development policy a critical issue. These questions are demand-driven to a certain extent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the average Briton doesn’t read the Tory green paper before considering their choice of party. There was an equivalent dearth of development discussion in the 2008 US presidential election – not a single question during the debates and little mention on the campaign trail. This doesn’t mean that voters don’t care about how public money is spent overseas, but that it takes a firm backseat to a large range of domestic and international issues.
The real question we need to be asking ourselves: if we do live in a world where development is on the electoral backburner, how does this affect the way we frame the aid effectiveness and accountability debate. Do we turn inward and try and create more ‘awareness,’ or do we turn outward and try and make aid more accountable to those that receive it? Are these two goals mutually exclusive?