[g8-sheffield] "How To Spin the G8" - good article on the state, media and protests

Chris Malins chrismalins at gmail.com
Thu May 19 14:56:20 BST 2005

This is indeed a very interesting article. It talks at some length about 
the vilification of the opposition to the G8, and also about the 
governments' attempt to draw a distinction between 'good and bad' 

The conclusion of the piece is also interesting, and presents a classic 
challenge to the thinking of the movement, which in my humble opinion it 
fails time after time to rise to.

The premise is that the government is trying to co-opt the Make Poverty 
History movement as a reflection of its own policy and to define this as 
legitimate protest, whereas protest on other more controversial policy 
issues is led by violent anarchists, and represents a threat to the 
British people. As evidence the article cites statements in support of 
MPH by government ministers and Blair and Brown, and also reciprocal 
positive messages from key campaign member organisations like Oxfam, 
praising the Blair government's stances.

The conclusion is that if we are to confront 'neoliberalism', we must 
avoid being split, that the strength of the movement lies in refusing to 
accept the spin and half-truths of government and business.

However, I would like to throw in some counter points to this 
conclusion, in defense of the campaign model being driven by Make 
Poverty History. First and foremost, it is worth emphasising the size 
and immediacy of the challenges facing the developing nations. Even 
acting within the neoliberal agenda, as Blair is, there are many 
measures which can be pursued to address the worst expressions of global 
poverty, to reduce the constant massive death toll which the west 
presides over. And although these solutions would not have the aspect of 
justice, or of readdressing the balance of power, and certainly not of 
promoting social equality, they can have real benefits to real suffering 
people, which make our concerns about our civil liberties and ID cards 
sound frivolous by comparison.

And this is why there is a divide between MPH and the anti-G8 movement. 
MPH is focussed on working with the powers that exist in the world to 
try to help as many people as possible as quickly as possible. There is 
some commonality of purpose with Blair, primarily because Gordon Brown 
has been willing to lead the international community in debt relief (ask 
John Smith about why this one matches the neoliberal agenda). Secondly 
because there is a willingness to talk about aid increases which are a 
good way for Labour to reassure the compassionate members of the 
electorate of their left wing credentials at a time when other 
indicators suggest the contrary. And most crucially, there is a 
consensus on agricultural subsidy reform, because subsidy reduction is 
actually a natural part of trade liberalisation, and because Britain is 
currently not a significant beneficiary of the Common agricultural 
Policy. So the government can make noises on all these issues, and MPH 
has to decide whether to emphasise working with government for these 
objectives, or to refuse to engage in the process until all the other 
demands are genuinely met.

The decision that MPH have made is in fact not to be co opted by 
government, they consistently lobby government for more than it wants to 
give, and there is a steady stream of low profile research papers from 
member organisations which are highly critical of government 
pro-liberalisation stances. But given the entrenched positions of other 
G8 governments, typically even less receptive than our own on some or 
all of the MPH issues (consider this from the guardian about the EU 
commission's vision for Africa: 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,,1487141,00.html) the 
coalition has to engage in give and take with the government. Blair may 
give a little help, but he wants a great spoonful of credit and positive 
vibes in return.

And this is why there is a necessary division between the MPH and 
anti-G8 movement. The emphasis of resistance groups is to be positive 
and understanding about each other's grievances, to present a maximal 
set of criticism and demands, which inevitably include demands from StWC 
for Blair's resignation, or the trial of the cabinet as war-criminals, 
or the dropping of the government's keynote ID card legislation, all as 
part of a general demand that the power structure of the world needs to 
be fundamentally, revolutionarily overhauled. Anti-G8 groups are not in 
the habit of giving government credit in areas where they are less 
concerned, rather we tend (not unreasonably) to adopt more criticisms as 
they become available. If MPH want to make a difference rather than make 
a point, they do not have the same luxury.

So my counter-premise is that the general anti-g8 protesters are 
focussed mostly on making a point about our various causes, and that 
central to this point is a refusal to engage with government which is 
unrepresentative and special interest dominated in a way which is 
analogous to the G8 itself, whereas the MPH protesters are taking 
advantage of the fact the G8 does exist, to try for the best likely 
outcome in terms of policy changes.

And the counter-conclusion is that rather than berating MPH for failing 
to act in solidarity with the wider movement, we should recognise that 
it has begun the process of radicalising and informing thousands of 
people, and set out to make and win our case with them one at a time, 
because the approach of trying to force our views onto everyone will 
only undermine both our causes. And when, as they will, the media vilify 
us and ignore our causes, we must soldier on as we always do, in the 
hope that the more people actually have contact with protesters, the 
more will realise that we are trying to safeguard democracy rather than 
attack it.


Chris wrote:
> Hi
> Somone reposted a good article on indymedia:
>   http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2005/05/311469.html
> I thought this was funny:
>    "Blair has been sporting his white MPH wrist band..."
> Chris

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