The most powerful piece of political advertising that I’ve seen during the general election hasn’t come from any party, not even Respect.
It is the television ad launched last week by Make Poverty History (MPH). Filmed in stark black and white, it shows a series of celebrities clicking their fingers at three second intervals.
The clicks are timed to mark the death of one of the 30,000 children who die every day for completely avoidable reasons whose direct or ultimate cause is poverty.
This simple message cuts through the trivial election chatter of the main parties that is boring everyone senseless. It points to the real obscenity of a rich world where 18 million people die of poverty every year.
The global campaign against poverty is capturing the imagination of people everywhere. I was talking a few days ago to an activist involved in the Coalition Against Privatisation in Ghana. Ghana’s government is neo-liberalism’s poster boy in Africa. But its efforts to privatise water have encountered massive resistance.
As part of the build-up to the G8 government ministers’ summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July, there was a Global Week of Action on Trade on 10-16 April. A demonstration in Accra, Ghana’s capital, saw hundreds of people turning out wearing home-made versions of the MPH white wristband.
The demonstration called by MPH in Edinburgh on Saturday 2 July looks set to be on the scale of the great Genoa protest at the Italian G8 summit in July 2001. Trains and coaches are already booked from all over the country and there will be contingents coming from the rest of Europe as well.
There will be a difference from Genoa, however. The government of Silvio Berlusconi — now, happily, on its last legs — treated the protesters as enemies and unleashed ferocious state violence against them, murdering Carlo Giuliani.
A massive police operation is also planned for the summit at Gleneagles. But the government is projecting itself as being on the same side as the protestors. At an election rally on World Poverty Day, 24 April, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown posed as champions of the poor. Former US president Bill Clinton was beamed in to echo this message.
According to the Guardian, he “urged disaffected Labour voters to return to the fold”. Indeed, the government’s support for MPH is a key theme in the election campaign, designed to win back Labour supporters who can’t forgive Blair for the Iraq war.
But all this is unbelievably hypocritical. As Mark Curtis of the World Development Movement points out in a new book, Arguments Against the G8, the New Labour government has been extremely active in pushing states in the global South to privatise their services and open their markets.
There is thus an enormous contradiction. Blair and Brown pose as fighters against global poverty to help hold their political base together, while forcing on the Third World the very policies that create the poverty in the first place.
Unfortunately, the mainstream non-governmental organisations that dominate MPH have shown themselves far too willing to go along with New Labour’s “anti-poverty” remake. This is reflected, for example, in MPH’s decision not to allow the Stop the War Coalition to affiliate.
The war in Iraq isn’t, as MPH claims, a distraction from the campaign against world poverty. It reflects the real priorities of the great imperialist powers, which spend far more on defence than would be needed to eliminate extreme poverty. War and poverty are the two great nightmares inflicted on us by global capitalism.
The MPH leadership’s attitude is a pity, but it shouldn’t stop anti-war activists, socialists and anti-imperialists from putting their backs into getting as many people as possible to Scotland—not just for the 2 July demo, but also for the G8 Alternatives counter-summit on 3 July and for the protest at Gleneagles itself on 6 July.
The G8 summits are when the mis-rulers of the world get together—George Bush, Tony Blair and the rest of the grubby gang. Let’s make sure that the world itself is there in force to demand an end to poverty and war.