THE Make Poverty History (MPH) coalition looks set to end as an umbrella
organisation, despite an ardent campaign for it to continue by several smaller
organisations within the coalition. Its national assembly meets next Tuesday.
The year-long campaign, which called for the governments of the richest
countries to make political decisions to deliver justice for the world’s
poorest people, describes itself as "part of a powerful people’s movement that
believes in progress through democracy".
Eight million people in the UK wore the white band to express solidarity for
the movement’s aims, and the click of the fingers to indicate a child dying of
poverty every three seconds caught the public imagination.
The coalition of more than 400 campaigning groups sought to capitalise on
Britain’s leadership of the G8 and presidency of the EU in 2005. More than
225,000 people marched on Edinburgh on the eve of the summit meeting in July,
and the Live8 concert was beamed to billions across the world. There were also
20,000 people in Trafalgar Square, at the start of the campaign, to hear Nelson
Mandela issue a global rallying call to ordinary people, and their governments
Important issues remained unresolved, but decisions on debt cancellation and
an increase in aid were made at the G8 summit, along with a commitment to
universal access to HIV treatment. There was the biggest ever trade-justice
mass lobby of Parliament in November, although MPH’s verdict on the World Trade
Organisation talks in December was that the potential for justice for the
world’s poorest people had been squandered.
The campaign believes it has demonstrated that governments could deliver
real change when faced with such public demand. It credits people for
responding "with an outpouring of compassion for humanity, solidarity and
respect for the value of human life", and also acknowledges that significant
changes have been achieved outside the direct demands of the campaign.
The explicit agreement that this was a one-year campaign only is enshrined
in the coalition’s founding document. But there has been growing support among
smaller organisations for the coalition to continue. Churches and fairtrade
groups in particular have backed the statement: "We believe that the Make
Poverty History campaign, name, website and mailing list should continue into
2006 and beyond in a modified and sustainable form."
Groups such as the Chester World Development Forum say that they would
regard it as "extremely foolish" to ditch the "strong, evocative ‘brand’" that
was Make Poverty History.
The Bishop of Knaresborough, the Rt Revd James Bell, said: "Poverty is one
of the most critical justice issues in our world; let’s continue MPH as a means
of uniting the vision and energy of individuals and organisations in search of
Alun Davies of Trade Injustice and Debt Action Leeds, declared: "Make
Poverty History is a brand as recognisable as Nike, Coke, or Virgin. It is
known among millions, if not tens of millions, of young people as a symbol of
international justice, poverty reduction, and a challenge to the status quo.
"To abandon the brand now would be equivalent to throwing millions of pounds
of goodwill down the drain. It would also be throwing away the most powerful
platform from which to ensure the goals of the campaign are achieved in their
MPH has been co-ordinated by 17 representatives from the larger
organisations, including Christian Aid and Oxfam. The group will present
proposals to the assembly next week for the way in which the banner and slogan
in particular can be used locally in the future, but it will not be
recommending that the coalition itself should continue.
Martin Drewery of Christian Aid, a member of the co-ordinating group, said
on Tuesday: "Some groups do want MPH as a nationally run single campaign, with
a secretariat set up to lead it forward. But the co-ordinating group doesn’t
support that view, and neither does Christian Aid.
"Different organisations must now focus on specific policy changes and have
more tightly targeted demands. We’ve also got to be able to trust each other as
a sector. The broader it gets, the greater the level of political difference.
You can hold it together under a broad message for a year, but I don’t know how
sustainable it is to hold it together for evermore."
Christian Aid had "some incredibly exciting campaigns" coming up in 2006, he
said; and other organisations also had plans. "Millions of households’
livelihoods depend on the success of those campaigns. I want there to be the
political and organisational space to deliver them in a big way.
"No one’s stopping campaigning — the amount of activity needs to grow.
There’ll still be Make Poverty History banners and placards — as a slogan, it
will still be there. The white band will still be sold and promoted, and if
people want to use it as the title of a local campaign action day, there’s no
problem with that at all."