There has been an astonishing hype in the British media for the last fortnight around the “Riots” which have been predicted for the G20 summit for the last two weeks. It is a fortnight since the first “Riots” newspaper billboards appeared in London. The news bulletins yesterday were dominated by the boarding up of shops and by earnest “security consultants” advising that people in suits are likely to be attacked.
The BBC reported fears that demonstrators would “Create unrest” in the capital.
Actually they won’t create unrest. What they may do is manifest the unrest that already exists in the capital.
The entire torrent of demonisation of protest is part of a process of limiting the area of legitimate debate to the tiny gap that exists between the Labour and Conservative parties, with all other ideas portrayed not just as illegitimate but as disorderly and threatening. That governs the opinions which journalists are allowed to express and the selection of voices heard on the media. It is the intellectual equivalent of playing a game of cricket confined to the square, with the outfield behind the ropes.
This will be mirrored in the physical constraints placed on demonstrators today. The Metropolitan Police now have a well rehearsed system for dealing with such events. Each demonstration will be split up into several separated groups. Each group will be tightly corraled, penned in with barriers in an uncomfortable crush that feels threatening to those inside. Occasionally groups will be shuffled between pens. Most demonstrators will not be allowed to the destination point to limit the appearance of numbers at the rallies. Once it is over, people will be kept corralled for several hours, with no refreshment or (this is critical and no joke) toilet facilities.
The tactic appears designed to create confrontation as people try to get out of penned areas to hear the speeches they came to hear, to escape the crush or just to find a loo. At the same time the argie-bargie thus deliberately sparked is confined to small numbers the police can contain.
As for the G20 summit itself, diplomats designated as “Sherpas” will already have worked out and agreed between all participants the draft of a bland communique. It will be all things to all men and enable everyone to claim victory. Brown will tell us he saved the World again.
I am in favour of fiscal stimulus of the Keynsian kind, with public spending and jobs helping boost demand in recession. The problem is that Obama and Brown have conflated that idea with massive bail-outs to the bankers, which is a completely different thing.
No amount of banking regulation will compensate for the fact that we have created a position where the financial services industry is featherbedded above all others. It has no downside. Success brings individual rewards on levels you and I can only dream of, while failure means you and I will pick up the tab with – on average – 14% of our total personal wealth donated to the bankers so far.
The bank bailouts have been the biggest transfer of funds from the poor to the rich in human history. That is a fundamental and an irrecoverable disaster. We are going to get a depression whatever this summit does.
The real interest of this summit will take place in the behind the scenes meetings. It won’t be mentioned in the official communique, but China, Brazil and Russia, quietly egged on by France, will be chattering about replacing the dollar as the currency of note. It is China, which has a lot of eggs in the dollar basket, which is pivotal here.
Britain is nowhere near its climate change targets on renewable energy. In fact it is so far out as to be laughable. Climate change ought to be high on the agenda. But here there will be a divergence between public support for existing agreements, and behind the scenes talks which will focus on how to use the recession to excuse relaxing the targets.
Of all the issues the public are demonstrating about today, climate change is the one where the G20 will be most shameful and most hypocritical.