Andrew Mitchell, International Development Secretary, On Labour's Aid Record, Europe And Looming Disasters

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You would forgive most coalition ministers for being jealous of Andrew Mitchell. The International Development Secretary oversees a department which enjoys a ring-fenced budget, while most of the others are dramatically squeezed. As other ministers are subjected to a daily barracking from the Labour party, trade unions and the press, he presides over a policy agenda upon which there appears to be - at Westminster at least - broad agreement. At least broader agreement than on most things.

So is his department the backwater of the coalition? Physically at least, it feels a bit like it. The building is tucked away next to Buckingham Palace, seemingly remote from the frisson of Whitehall. Yet from there, this mild-mannered ex-Rugby boy (the public school, not the sport) seems determined to justify his protected budget and his agenda.

And when you get down to it, he's as party political as any other secretary of state. The first question HuffPost UK put to him was on Gordon Brown's recent claim that the world was on course to miss most of the Millennium Development Goals. Mitchell responds with a searing critique of Labour's handling of the Department for International Development (DfID), and of Brown himself.

"The problem with Gordon's approach is that he didn't focus enough on results. There was a lot of focus on huge headlines with huge sums of money. The key thing is that the results are delivered on the ground," he says briskly, keen to stress that when he entered DfID everything wasn't to his liking.

"Going on a day trip to Maputo to announce half a billion dollars on education was something completely loved by Labour. But what's much more important is the outputs of that. That's the big difference between the coalition government and Gordon Brown."

It sounds harsh, given that for all his faults even Brown's fiercest critics tended to think his heart was in the right place on global development. Yet Mitchell seems unafraid of controversy: "Britain is piloting results-based aid in Ethiopia, where we're saying you get additional support if you get a girl into school over a boy, in a very difficult part of the country. You get more support if a child sits an exam and you get even more support if a child passes that exam."

As the interview progresses, there are lot of these examples. They trip off Mitchell's tongue, almost to the point of litany. But what's the real difference now, given that the budget for overseas development is protected like almost no other?

"The ring-fenced budget imposes a double obligation on us, to make sure that every time we take a pound, we really deliver a hundred pence. If you talk to any of my officials they'll tell you that the Secretary of State is obsessed by results, and he insists that we pass the Mrs. Jones test. Mrs. Jones is a constituent in Sutton Coldfield, who is an aid-sceptic and she wants to know why and how this money is being spent. I must be able to account to her."

Having spoken to his officials, HuffPost gets the sense they quite like working for him. "It's great here," trills one official, who joined on secondment from the Foreign Office and stayed on.

But really, doesn't Mrs. Jones want to decide how she spends her money herself? Doesn't Mrs. Jones prefer giving to charity off her own back, not have her tax spent for her, without consulting with her first?

"If you ask a big sample of people how much government money goes on overseas development, the average figure is 18 percent. That's what they think. If you ask them what it should be, they say an average of 8 percent. What is it? 1.1 percent. They think we should be spending 7 times more than we are. Mrs. Jones understands that supporting charities that vaccinate children is important, but she understands that a government programme can get everyone together."

Given the kinds of newspapers Mrs. Jones likes to read regularly produce editorials calling for the aid budget to be cut, we're not entirely convinced about that, but never mind. Mitchell is so convinced of the rightness of his agenda it quickly becomes clear there's not much point arguing.

So we wanted to know whether the crisis in the Eurozone could threaten the amount of aid other European countries decide to send overseas. If Germany is having qualms supporting nearby economies even when it's probably in its national interest to do so, is there a risk the Germans and other European countries might cut their aid budgets because they need to bail out the Italians?

Mitchell - hardly a noted hardline Eurosceptic among Tory ministers - doesn't deny there is a risk of that happening. "We should stand by these commitments because it's in the interest of the security of Europe. A time of international difficulty underlines why we are right to stand by these commitments. The size of the budgets we are talking about are minute. People should stand by it because it's the right thing to do, it's in their own national interests because it makes them more secure."

There is a hint of exasperation with Europe though. "We have consistently told the EU to up their game in how that money is spent. I have limited control over that. We have to remember that it's the poorest people in the world who would be affected by another international recession."

Mitchell's concern is that those poor people are about to get a lot poorer. "We know from credible research that over the next 10 to 15 years, the incidents of these humanitarian emergencies will increase by around 50 percent. Climate change is having a dramatic effect on the ground."

And it's here that you begin to detect a slight divergence between Mitchell and George Osborne, who is reportedly going off the green agenda. But Mitchell is adamant that the Chancellor is "passionate" about international development, and he can at least point to supportive gestures from Osborne on that. The only fringe meeting at Tory conference attended by Osborne this year was on overseas aid.

So of all the countries in the world that might need British aid in the future, where's the big focus likely to be? Mitchell is frank about the future, and it's not rosy. He's clearly worried about Bangladesh. "You can see how an increase in the water level would wipe out hundreds of thousands of people's homes. Everything we do in Bangladesh," - he gets very animated about Bangladesh, jabbing a finger on the table as he makes his point - "I can't tell you what's going to happen, but we've looked at long-term disaster resilience, and we have the right policy tools to address those issues."

So when the sea-level rises, those Bangladeshis are going to be in big trouble, aren't they? Are we talking about those hundreds of thousands of people dying? Or mass migration to other countries?

"You're trying to get me to suggest that there's looming disaster in Bangladesh. I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that we have the right tools for addressing these things. We are focused on limiting the rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, and we're focused on making people aware of what the effects are of breaching that target, and the effects are very serious and very severe."

Mitchell seems very confident about the tools he has. Huffpost came away from the interview sensing that toolbox is likely to be needed again, sooner rather than later.

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