National interests and the paradox of foreign aid under austerity: Conservative governments and the domestic politics of international development since 2010

17 Aug 2017

Since 2010, successive Conservative-led Coalition and Conservative governments in the UK have imposed domestic austerity while maintaining foreign aid commitments. They have done so in the teeth of considerable hostility from influential sections of the media, many Conservative MPs and party members, and large sections of the voting public. This paper explains this apparently paradoxical position by analysing these governments’ increasingly explicit stance that aid serves ‘the national interest’ in a variety of ways. While not a new message from donors, post-2010 Conservative governments have significantly powered up this narrative. The post-Brexit referendum government is less committed to foreign aid, and it may well institute cuts following changes in legislation. In the meantime, however, it too has focused on shifting discourse and substance towards a more insistent articulation and pursuit of ‘the national interest’.