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The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the government will reduce the amount of spend on international development from 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%. (read more, e.g., here). This means that the government will spend £10bn on aid instead of £14bn.

This post sets out an attempt to undo this decision.

I'm hoping we can find more people to help with analysis and to donate to the campaign.


At a high level, the plan we have in mind is essentially taken straight from the tech startup playbook:

  1. Identify the highest leverage constituencies (probably those with "moderate" Tory MPs)
  2. perform google and facebook ads to identify people in those constituencies willing to write a letter or email to their MP
  3. recruit them and provide them with a template letter/email

I'm currently reaching out to a bunch of NGOs in my network to ask them

  • Are approaches like these already being used? (and if not, why not?)
  • Do any NGOs already have the analysis on which constituencies are the best targets?
  • Once we have recruited people, how best to look after them?

Even if we find that NGOs are already targeting the most strategic constituencies, we would to do some work ourselves on analysing which the most strategic constituencies are, as this would help us to assess and potentially support the decision-making being done by the NGOs.

Who's working on this, and why do we need more people

The main people involved thus far are myself and a member of the EA community called Sahil.

We will need more people to help with various tasks, especially analysis to work out which MPs are the most strategic ones to reach out to. There are probably other tasks that I haven't thought through -- this post is being written quickly, as we may not have much time to act.

How would funds be used?

Funds are needed for Facebook/Google ads to reach strategically chosen constituents of the MPs who are most interested in supporting international development.

Given the considerations set out below, I would judge that this likely outperforms a donation to a GiveWell-recommended charity. (A confident/rigorous assessment of this claim would require a more detailed model than I have time for; timescales are likely short)

How good is more development spend?

DfID has in recent years been considered one of the top international development agencies, known for its focus on impact and its awareness of cost-effectiveness. Their Chief Economist was and still is Rachel Glennerster (early taker of the GWWC pledge). Something that's unclear is the extent to which DfID's effectiveness might change after the merger with the FCO (foreign office).

Having said that, at this particular time, the need is particularly high, so at the margin, reducing spend is likely to mean that much-needed programmes are brought to an abrupt halt right at the moment when work is most needed.

Reducing development spend in the short term strikes me as a clearly bad idea.

How effective is this campaign likely to be?

The change will require a change to the law, which means MPs will have to vote on it. 

I get the impression that it's not clear that the government will win on this. This suggests that it's a good campaign to apply some effort to.

A guardian political correspondent had this to say about the drop in the ODA percentage:

"This is a very politically tricky moment, as shown by the amount of time Sunak uses justifying it. A lot of Tory MPs are angry. The change potentially requires a Commons vote, and there is no guarantee the government will win. This one, as they say, could run and run."


Former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell is quoted as saying:

“It’s a relatively small amount of money in the overall scheme of things for us, but it’s an enormous amount of money for the world’s poorest people. We’ve got expertise, we’ve got commitment, we can harness the great passion that we saw over the Make Poverty History campaign. We are determined to make the government rethink.”

Full  article at https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/nov/29/senior-tories-fear-4bn-cut-to-overseas-aid-will-be-made-permanent

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Thanks Sanjay! This looks really important. For those considering supporting you, would be helpful to see something like

  • Timeline -- how urgent this is, e.g. when the voting is expected to happen
  • Any details of the plan to the extent you have it, e.g. which Tory MPs are relevant (the journalist mentioned some MPs are angry -- do they know which ones?), rough estimate of budget
  • "I get the impression that it's not clear that the government will win on this." Why is that? (Or mostly based on what the journalist said?)
  • Any lesson from similar previous campaigns (you probably don't time to do a deep analysis, but anything quick would probably help)

Thanks very much!

  • Timeline -- fairly urgent. There will be a bill going to parliament to change the law, and I don't think anyone knows exactly when that will be, but it can't be this side of Christmas (nothing works that quickly) and it will probably be before April (which is when the financial year starts). Given that they want it to go through and may anticipate opposition, I would guess late January.
  • Plan: which Tory MPs are relevant: for those which are bound to follow the whip (either because they always follow the whip, or because they are dead against international development) we don't touch them -- there's no point. For those who are more on the fence, probably still little value, as the whip is probably fairly strong (I haven't investigated that last claim very closely, so if anyone has opposing opinions I would be interested to hear them). For those who are against, but who might only abstain rather than rebel (which is what mostly happened when the Conservative party wanted the right to break international law), influencing them to rebel instead of abstain will help. The ask: I think we have two asks: (1) vote against reducing the 0.7% (2) An amendment to the bill so that if it does go ahead, it is written into the Bill that it should be temperary (which is what Rishi said anyway).  Budget: as we're using google/facebook ads (and not hiring people) there aren't any "chunked-up" elements of spend -- it's all smoothly spendable. In other words, the more the merrier. If we have only a few thousand, we can use it. If we have a bit more or a lot more, we can use it.
  • Will the government win: I have discussed this with a few people and heard differing opinions. I don't have a strong opinion on how likely this is.
  • Lessons from previous campaigns: I haven't studied previous campaigns, but I've spoken to some NGOs working in this space and the thinking that they have outlined is pretty similar to the plan I set out above. So their implicit learning from previous campaigns is supportive

Thanks for your reply! Please keep us posted here on your plan and how to donate etc. as you figure them out.

Another thought: may be helpful to work with some experienced NGO or someone experienced in political campaigning to craft the fb ads, targeting strategy etc. Seems like a pretty specialized thing worth drawing from existing expertise to maximize the chance of success.

Thanks Sanjay. This is very sad news but I'm glad you and Sahil are on this.

I was pretty unhappy about the DFID/FCO merger, which didn't seem very well justified and risks disrupting what was widely regarded as one of the world's standout international development agencies. But this seems even worse.

This question is now open! You can see the community prediction by mousing over the text.

This does sound like one of those rare cases where a little effort can mean a lot of impact, where would you recommend we focus our time and funds? 

What's limiting you and how can I help? 

Thank you very much Will K and Id25 for asking how you can help.

Based on the conversations I've had with people thus far, I think the gap is for organisers/liaisers. I.e.

  • we will run some social media ads
  • most ads viewers will do nothing, some of the ad viewers will send an email to their MP (as requested), some will want to engage more
  • For those who want to engage more, we'll need people to talk with them -- these are the organisers/liaisers. We don't know yet how many of these people will be needed.

At the time I wrote this post, I thought there might be a gap for analysis, but I suspect that gap might not exist after all.

If you are interested in helping out, please send me a message via the EA Forum or directly to sanjay_joshi { a t } hotmail.co.uk

Alongside social media ads, could one possible strategy be asking highly motivated constituency members in targeted areas (eg EAs, people that email their MP) to post similar content to the ads, to local Facebook groups and their own social media networks? Zero cost, and might extend reach beyond paid adverts.

One risk is that if they're not very well informed they might misrepresent the message. In which case the campaign could provide materials for them to post (maybe identical to the ad content).

Same here, how exactly can we help?

Is it worth signing this petition?


It has just over 51 thousand signatures already.

There is a low cost to signing the petition, so no harm in doing so.

However a petition will have minimal upside too.

No MP will be surprised to know that some people are in favour of maintaining the 0.7%, but they will largely imagine those people to lefties who would never vote for a Conservative MP anyway.

Emails to your MP are more valuable because they help to bring you, an aid supporter, to life.

Hi! I'm not sure if you are aware of this, but Oxfam have a network of Constituency Campaigners. Oxfam share guidance and resources, and people in constituencies around the country then lobby individual MPs. Further info here.  I know they are engaging in lobbying on this specific issue. I think they could be helpful as they have experience of the style of campaigning you are hoping to engage in, may have analysis of which constituencies are best to target, and/or have useful resources/documents. 

Thanks Matt. One of our team is in close contact with Oxfam. Thank you.

Brilliant - best of luck!

Hi Sanjay, agree this is important. I'll be curious to hear what the NGOs you've reached out to think is the best way to infuence this decision. Given the large Tory majority we'd have to flip quite a few individual MPs to defeat the vote - I wonder if media outreach would also be useful.

I can also think of a few people who are sympathetic to EA, supportive of aid, and might have ideas about waht strategy is best. e.g. might be worth reaching out to Sam Bowman for ideas.

What can we do to help?

Thanks for asking OHR. One idea is set out in the comment which starts "Thank you very much Will K and Id25 for asking how you can help."

However a group of us have had our first meeting and in practice we have all been thinking through the connections and communities we belong to and working out ways to activate and work with them.

If anyone has the capacity to help, it would be great to have you involved. Ping me an email on sanjay_joshi { a t } hotmail.co.uk. 

If I were you, I'd try to reach out to people like the former Tory whip you quoted, and say, "We've got some money and some energized people, what are the other ingredients to make a difference on this? Who should we talk to, how do we plug into some existing infrastructure, etc."

Thanks for the suggestion. 

We reached out to that MP and several other MPs and parliamentarians in the days immediately after the announcement, and are also in conversation with several NGOs active in this space, and other groups.

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