As a few entries in the run-up to the G8 summit hinted, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately considering the place of pragmatism in campaigning. Any campaign that seeks to make a quick impact is almost certain to have to make major compromises in order to get attention and drive action without the time to affect a fundamental change in mindsets.
In the case of the Make Poverty History and One campaigns those compromises have been front-and-center. From the outset Make Poverty History was accused of being too close to Blair’s government, a closeness that has allowed them to be deeply involved in the discussions leading up to this year’s G8 summit, but which necessitates a muted agenda.
As it was, the G8 summit last week ended with an announcement containing a nice big number, but little substance. On the issue of climate change it’s a major achievement to get George W Bush to make the concessions he made. But it was a major failure on the part of the other seven leaders that they didn’t show him up for the sluggard he is by leaving the US out and announcing a significant program to combat climate change, the sort of program that even the World Economic Forum is now calling for. On debt, the heads of government lost their thunder to the finance ministers who made a significant—but still far from revolutionary—announcement some weeks ago.
By means of comparison, the Cologne summit in 1999 made announcements involving more money and a revived debt cancellation process. Hardly any of that money ever made its way to those who needed it, as it was quickly caught up in slow processes and complex conditionality. But in purely financial terms that summit surpasses this year’s, yet we’re hearing campaigners with an unprecedented hold on the public senses praising that failure as a historic success.
And this side of the summit is where the compromises start to really show. While both Make Povery History and the One Campaign have made announcements which note the need for further action, their spokespeople have also been ridiculously complimentary to the eight men who got together on their golf course and agreed to hand out a little more cash to a few favoured client nations. Having renounced anything approaching a radical agenda in the run up to Live8, these campaigners are left without much to fall back on if they’re to explain why this summit didn’t achieve the radical ends we were told it would.
Beyond that there is the spectacle of Bono spouting nonsense like “We’ve pulled this off” and Bob Geldof describing this latest debacle as an “act of justice.” There is perhaps some compassion present, but justice the G8 summit did not bring.
It’s not justice to keep people in poverty, handing them just enough to keep them from dying, in order that they may service your wealth. And that’s what the current structure does. That’s why structural changes are needed: starting with debt cancellation and trade reform, but moving beyond them to new decision making structures which allow all voices to be made audible.