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Home > Politics

G8: Fine words butter no parsnips

10 July 2005

Long before the agenda was hijacked by terrorists, it was looking increasingly likely that the G8 summit might end up being a case of all mouth (Geldof's mouth mostly) and very little in the way of actual trouser. Then came the London blasts and it was almost as if international terrorism was in cahoots with Britain's media to derail the discussion and usurp the front pages. One way or another, violence was intent on ruining everything. All this week certain quarters of the media have been unable to stop themselves focusing on the rather childish antics of a minuscule minority of so-called anarchists, and wildly exaggerating them.

On Saturday between 200,000 and a quarter of a million people marched through Edinburgh to demand of eight men in expensive suits that they do their level best to stop people starving to death in Africa. It was Scotland's largest ever street protest, and it was virtually fracas-free. Then on Monday a handful of self-styled anarchic anti-capitalists went on a mini-rampage in Princes Street, were quickly contained by a sufficiently prepared police force and tore up a flower-bed in their frustration and immaturity. Typically, despite the fact that the city's police confessed that more damage was done on an average Saturday night in the city, it was the anarchists and their infantilism that stole the headlines the next day.

This pattern has repeated itself all week, culminating in the Sun's reaction yesterday to spats in Gleneagles, Stirling and Bannockburn on Wednesday. On their front page they wrote, 'In amazing scenes reminiscent of Vietnam, officers were flown in to tackle rampaging anarchists....' If you saw any of the TV footage of the couple of hundred activists, most of them standing around in a wet field, a few of them attempting to force their way through the ring of steel five miles from the hotel where the world leaders were staying, you will most probably have thought exactly the same thing. All this needs, you will have thought, is a bit of napalm, a few acres of scorched paddy field and the steely resolve of the VietCong and we're back in Saigon. However, one moth-eaten Chinook was all it took for the Sun.

What (little) violence there was has been roundly and rightly condemned by everyone from Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell to Geldof himself. McConnell said yesterday that the 'thugs' responsible had shown 'utter contempt for the lives of ordinary Scots', as well as 'the 100 million children whose lives could be saved by the decision made on Friday. My message today to them would be that I would like to take each of you individually and sit you in a village in Malawi, watching childen dying....' Blimey. '...and then see if you think you have contributed at all to saving their lives by your action this week in Scotland.' Jack McConnell doesnt fuck about. Perhaps he could take the eight men in suits along too though. Perhaps a little time watching children die is exactly what they need.

Despite the violence then; despite the - according to some - heavy-handedness of the police; despite the riot shields, the tear gas, the headless flowers and the smashed cars of Bannockburn, there was actually very little trouble this week in Scotland, considering. The monumental chaos predicted by some when Live 8 was first publicised and Bob told the world to march on Edinburgh has not come to pass. Rather, a great many predominantly peaceful protests were made, a great many white wristbands were worn and a great many pop groups enjoyed by a great many ordinary non-violent people who very much desire that another bunch of people they have never met, in another continent that most of them have never visited, stop dying unnecessarily because they haven't got anything to eat. It's very straightforward. And it's got nothing whatsoever to do with Vietnam.

This is the first time that ordinary people have become involved in international politics in such a hands-on (albeit ultimately ignorable) way. And whether it is naive or not, what the people want is very, very simple, and it should not be lost in a sea of media sensationalising. Or indeed terrorist attacks.

So. Today eight men in expensive suits are discussing what on earth can be done to help our poor and ailing cousin, Africa. Let's hope they can look beyond their own best interests for a moment. No, but seriously. You never know. Really. Just maybe, by the time you're reading these words, poverty could already be history. And the sky over Africa could be black with feathery bacon.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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