FIGURES last Friday by the influential World Development Movement show that last year Britain's official aid programme dropped to the lowest level ever in real terms in our history. When Mrs Thatcher faced the leaders of the "magnificent seven" industrialised powers across a conference table in Venice earlier this week, did she pause for a moment to reflect that when she was first admitted to these hallowed gatherings in 1979 she was the "leader of the pack" in terms of government aid to the Third World? In Venice she was struggling to outdo Japan and America for the aid "wooden spoon".
Well, in the interim between the penning and the publishing of this leading article, the polls may well have been confounded and the Alliance or Labour installed at 10 Downing Street along with their pledges to restore our aid budget to the UN guidelines of 0.7 per cent of gross national product. (It currently stands at a little less than half of that, while France tops the "big seven" with just 0.49 per cent).
It is ironic that a record low in the aid budget was recorded in the same year that one million people took to Britain's streets to support Bob Geldof's Sport Aid and show they cared for what happens in the Third World.
On Saturday the Royal Festival Hall will be full to capacity with people who have supported CAFOD throughout its 25 years, and it will be a timely occasion, just two days after an election, when all politicians should reflect the enthusiasm and degree of awareness that agencies like CAFOD have promoted amongst the British people for others around the world.
Because of the pioneering work of CAFOD we have moved away from notions of charity, of digging a little deeper into our pockets to help others less fortunate. Now we acknowledge that everyone has a right to food and shelter, justice demands it, and that if they are denied that right it is not their own weaknesses but more likely the world's oppressive economic systems — run by the cartel that met at Venice — that have left them in that position.
Perhaps whoever represents Britain at the next economic summit will take note of the degree of awareness and the priority given to our aid commitment amongst those just across the river Thames from Whitehall at the Festival Hall on Saturday and will act accordingly, not just to reach the 0.7 per cent but to do so and to better it because there is a growing demand that they should among the people of this country.