Saturday 28 March 2009

Fluffy G20 protest largely uneventful

Friday 27 March 2009

Squaring up to the Square Mile

Click on the map to enlarge.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Architects of the crisis

Gordon Brown
UK Prime Minister and former Chancellor

1997-2007: "No more boom and bust."

1997: "I will not allow house prices to get out of control and put at risk the sustainability of the future."

2005: "The new model we propose is quite different. In a risk-based approach there is no inspection without justification, no form-filling without justification, and no information requirements without justification. Not just a light touch but a limited touch. Instead of routine regulation attempting to cover all, we adopt a risk-based approach which targets only the necessary few."

2007: "Over the ten years that I have had the privilege of addressing you as Chancellor, I have been able year by year to record how the City of London has risen by your efforts, ingenuity and creativity to become a new world leader … So I congratulate you Lord Mayor and the City of London on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London …

"So let me say as I begin my new job, I want to continue to work with you in helping you do yours, listening to what you say, always recognising your international success is critical to that of Britain's overall and considering together the things that we must do - and, just as important, things we should not do - to maintain our competitiveness … [such as] enhancing a risk based regulatory approach, as we did in resisting pressure for a British Sarbannes-Oxley after Enron and Worldcom …

"The financial services sector in Britain and the City of London at the centre of it, is a great example of a highly skilled, high value added, talent driven industry that shows how we can excel in a world of global competition. Britain needs more of the vigour, ingenuity and aspiration that you already demonstrate that is the hallmark of your success."

David Cameron
Conservative Party Leader

2006: "The growth of the modern City as we know it was shaped by three critical Conservative decisions. First, because of our attractive tax regime, in the 1970s, US bonds were traded in London - the so-called 'euro-bond' market. Then the big bang of the 1980s removed a huge swathe of regulation that allowed the City to expand and removed restrictive practices. And by being open to competition from banks from anywhere in the world, we injected an enterprising spirit into the City.

"The success of the City helps to drive the UK economy and provides huge benefits for our wider society... It is also highly innovative. You cannot simply set in stone a tax or regulatory regime for the City as it is today because it's always changing, adapting and mutating.

"[We need] to build a flexible economy with low tax, light regulation and open markets...

"Many on the left-of-centre still seek to solve problems through more taxes, more laws and more regulations… But we, on the centre-right, prefer to step out of the way of business."

2007: "When I studied economics, 20 years ago, arguments raged about the most basic principles of how to run the economy [and]...there was a vast gulf between left and right as to how this could best be achieved. The left advocated more intervention and government ownership. Those on the right argued for monetary discipline and free enterprise. That debate is now settled. Over the past 15 years, governments across the world have put into practice the principles of monetary discipline and free enterprise. The result? A vast increase in global wealth. The world economy more stable than for a generation...

"Our hugely sophisticated financial markets match funds with ideas better than ever before."

Sunday 8 March 2009

Put Gordon Brown First?

As the London G20 summit of world leaders fast approaches, it might be worthwhile to cast our minds back to 2005 and to the warning by George Monbiot that protests at the G8 summit at Gleneagles, the focus of the mobilisation by the popular ‘Make Poverty History’ (MPH) campaign, would be “far too polite”. He argued that by following the agenda set by Bob Geldof and the millionaire tax-avoider Bono, to “turn the political campaign developed by the global justice movement into a philanthropic one,” there was a real risk that MPH would be “sell us down the river.” Like Monbiot, others were warning that a number of the aid agencies, notably Oxfam, and the TUC were complicit in allowing the co-option of MPH by Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, leading to campaign demands that largely mirrored the issues that the government wanted to press. And so it proved: protests in July 2005 were overshadowed by the Live8 concerts and by Bono and Geldof’s praise for the world’s leaders for promises that turned out to be completely bogus.

Now, in response to the economic crisis and the forthcoming G20 summit, we have a new campaigning coalition that, like MPH, seems impressively broad. ‘Put People First’ is organising a protest on 28 March in London and has 100 organisations supporting it, predominantly trade unions and development NGOs. Unlike MPH, the ‘celebration of celebrities’ seems to have been avoided this time, although once again, many of the ‘12 key policies’ for the UK government proposed by Put People First – particularly on ‘governance reform of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’ or ‘a green new deal to build a green economy’ – are unlikely to greatly trouble Gordon Brown. What we do know is that the G20 summit is enormously important to the UK government, one of the last opportunities before a general election to present Brown as a potential ‘saviour’ of the global economy. For his Labour Party allies in the TUC, this is enormously important too. That’s why it is hardly surprising that two separate sources have now told me that the TUC comrades within Put People First are busy vetoing any speaker at the Hyde Park rally on 28 March who may be tempted to utter damning criticism of Brown or his efforts to bail out free-market capitalism with our money. So no change there then.

What seems to be completely missing from the Put People First initiative is any reflection on the causes of the disaster we face. Its website says, “the world has followed a financial model that has created an economy fuelled by ever-increasing debt, both financial and environmental.” But it makes no mention of the fact that it has been the politicians from the ideologically dominant players within the G20 – particularly Gordon Brown during the decade when he was Chancellor – who have helped create the crisis by vigorously defending this model, which for the sake of argument, let's call "capitalism". This failure to point the finger at those who are guilty of leading us into the global financial and ecological crisis goes to the heart of the dilemma facing the ‘polite’ campaigners: the crisis is not simply a natural disaster, but the result of the actions of governments. The banks acted in the way that they did because state governments favoured ‘light touch regulation’. The World Bank and WTO are undemocratic and accountable because it has suited state governments to maintain them this way. Multinational corporations are neither transparent nor answerable to global citizens because state governments have no interest in challenging their power. And efforts to combat climate change have been undermined by the desire for continued growth - or now, in a recession, the desire for a rapid return to growth. "There can be no return to business as usual," say Put People First. But governments have other ideas and the campaign is more concerned with how we can talk to them, not how we might stop them.

If there is one lesson to take from the experience of MPH, politely suggesting to the arsonists that they put out the fire simply doesn’t work. It's one that Put People First seems not to have even considered.

There will be a 'militant workers bloc' on the Put People First protest and other demonstrations in the Square Mile - see G20 Meltdown in the City

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