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Geldof gets the tactics right

02 November 2006

POLITICAL CAMPAIGNING in the old days used to be so much easier. The reformers would protest and lobby, the Government would resist, and everyone knew where they stood. If, after a time, the Government conceded, it could be hailed as a significant humiliation, forced on them by people-power.

Since New Labour came to power, everything has become confused. It started with the praise heaped on the Jubilee Debt campaigners in the run-up to the Millennium. Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown commended the Jubilee campaigners for their achievement in putting the debt burden on the agenda. The fact that the campaign had failed to persuade political leaders to cancel all debt to the developing world seemed to escape them. If the Jubilee campaigners were so praiseworthy, why hadn't Mr Blair and Mr Brown moved faster to fulfil their aims?

A similar pattern has emerged before the forthcoming G8 summit. The Government is once again on this side of the barriers. Ministers wear Make Poverty History wristbands. Mr Brown has joined those pressing to get Status Quo into the Live 8 line-up (a doubtful move in more ways than one). No doubt Mr Blair's people have been negotiating to get him on to one Live 8 stage or another.

This is all wrong. The Make Poverty History campaign is a protest - against this Government and others. We can rightly blame the Government for colluding with the present unjust trade systems, for maintaining high subsidies on European goods, for failing to cancel debt repayments, for moving too slowly towards the UN target of 0.7-per-cent of GNP spent on development, for dithering about situations like Darfur where poverty is bound up with injustice, and for being generally inadequate to the situation. Those who wish to be fair to Mr Blair and Mr Brown will point out that they have done much in the past two or three years. The reason why tens of thousands of people are preparing to go to Edinburgh is that the politicians have not done enough. A UN report this week warns that progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of tackling infant mortality by 2015 is seriously adrift, with the result that three million children aged under five are likely to die needlessly.

In this context, the tidy, planned protests in Edinburgh on 2 July can be seen to be colluding with the Government. Admittedly, they show the G8 leaders that support for Africa has popular backing. And they are galvanising British public opinion, so that it will more readily back fair trade and further debt cancellation. What they won't do is alarm the Government in the way that Bob Geldof's urging has done. The correct response to persistent injustice on such a scale is anger. Neglectful or incompetent politicians should expect to be the target.

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