Department for International Development

Lessons from Rwanda

A couple of months ago, I suggested that the claims for the benefit of the Tory trip to Rwanda might be inflated. In the current mood of dissatisfaction with David Cameron, much of the media and many private commentators are making cynical observations about this trip. Much of this cynicism is simply gut-reaction to an apparently shallow publicity-seeker travelling on another foreign jolly in the immediate aftermath of the exposure of the hollowness of his claims to have transformed the electoral prospects of his party by abandoning principles and moving to the centre-ground. These are not unreasonable grounds for cynicism, but it is nevertheless possible that this trip has genuine merit, despite the troubles at home. It would be useful to be able to judge the trip according to the tests and claims that Team Cameron have set themselves.

You may remember from the earlier post that the key to this trip was that it is "a genuine two-way learning process, with each side leveraging the skills and knowledge of the other", with "targeted professional help in support of the development of Rwanda". The "importance of the projects' legacy" is emphasised. To ensure that the participants actually bring something useful to the trip, "there has been a rigorous interview process of prospective participants to ensure a correct fit between skills and assignments".

I questioned exactly what skills, useful to African development projects, most Tory MPs would bring. Helpfully, Adrian Yalland, the boss of the company organising the trip, responded to my challenge on Iain Dale's site, though he was unable to name names, to enable us to test the claims. We had to wait for the trip, and rely on the Conservatives to tell us who was doing what.

Well, the trip has started, and so far the Conservatives have not given us a list of participants and the particular skills that they are bringing to the projects. But it is possible gradually to extract the names of participants from reports on the trip. So, for instance, we know that Andrew Mitchell is leading the trip, which, as Shadow Minister for International Development, is entirely reasonable. Earlier suggestions that David Mundell and Hugo Swire would be involved have not been confirmed (Hugo may be less keen, now he has been dropped from the Shadow Cabinet). But we learn instead that "Tobias Ellwood, the shadow culture spokesman and former officer in the Royal Green Jackets, shared some of his considerable carpenting expertise with Brooks Newmark, a new whip". So that's another military man, like Swire, of which there is not a shortage in Rwanda. But at least Ellwood has carpenting skills (to accompany his military and City experience), which the Guardian seems to be hinting that Brooks Newmark, a former venture capitalist, lacks.

Impartiality of state employees

There was some accidentally revealing stuff today on Radio 5Live's reporting of Tony Blair's resignation and their review of his premiership. First Jane Garvey reported that the halls of Corporation House were awash with empty champagne bottles the morning after the 1997 election. Realising that this gave the lie to the BBC's supposed impartiality, she whittered briefly on the subject of whether this really indicated preference for Labour, before eventually saying that she wished she'd never brought it up. Oops.

As useful as a Tory MP on an African building site

Clemency Burton-Hill (a multi-talented individual and real fox to boot, so I'm sorry to have to take the piss, but this is too good to ignore) reports in this week's Spectator that the Tories are "fighting back" against Gordon Brown's lead on international development issues "with a plan to send MPs into poverty-stricken Africa." I bet the poor Africans can barely contain their excitement.