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

The Huffington Post UK   First Posted: 20/11/2011 05:55 GMT Updated: 20/11/2011 15:40 GMT

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.