At the invitation of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, leaders of the G20 nations are arriving in London to discuss solutions to the financial crisis. Unfortunately, the vacuous and idiotic throngs have already arrived. On Saturday I had the pleasure of talking with members of the Put People First alliance of 150 charities and unions who walked from the Thames Embankment to Hyde Park for a rally. Their speakers called on G20 leaders to "pursue a new kind of global justice." From what I can tell every anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation group is represented here with myriad dangerous demands. Union leaders from Italy were calling for an end to capitalism; Palestinian sympathizers were calling for an end to Israel. And one British academic, anthropology professor Chris Knight of the University of East London, was calling for an end to bankers. He at least got into trouble for demanding Mussolini-style stringing up of the guilty, which he identified as any and all bankers; he's been temporarily suspended from his university post for his incitement to violence.
Yet violence has already occurred. The former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland had his house attacked last week. The windows of Sir Fred Godwin's Edinburgh house were smashed by activists, fortunately the banker and is family were not at home. Thousands of London police officers were mustered to deal with the protesters, and several arrests were made.
The bland platitudes and occasionally dangerous rhetoric of the political and charity leaders, calling for us to all work together, to overcome "capitalism which isn't working" often reminds me of the arguments put forward by British miners, during the strike, which Margaret Thatcher's Government broke 25 years ago. Union leaders wanted mining to be subsidized at the expense of taxpayers across Britain. Today, charities want banks to be eviscerated and the public sector to take over the means of production. It is enough to make staunch communists, like 62-year-old Enrico Favalli, who came all the way from Genoa to be in London, smile. "It's taken 30 years longer than we thought, but the capitalist system has collapsed, our time is about to come," the ex union leader laughed. Long live the revolution! Ok so he didn't say that but he might as well have done so. While Favalli is largely a harmless temporarily energized throwback, politicians and activists across the globe are taking advantage of the current financial crisis to further their own self-interested agenda.
Climate campaigners are best positioned to this end. With the Obama and Brown administrations, to say nothing of the rest of Europe, demanding major energy reductions, via cap and trade systems and energy taxes, and subsidies for green energy, it is of no surprise that British Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said it was important for the G20 to make commitments on helping the environment as well as the economy. "There are some people who will say you can either tackle the economic crisis or the climate crisis. But the truth is that both come together with this idea of a Green New Deal, of investing in the jobs of the future, which are going to be in the green industries of the future." The current crisis is a double-threat, an opportunity to create permanently subsidized green jobs of the future, as well as the nationalization of many other businesses.
The British police estimate there were up to 35,000 protesters in London on Saturday, but it is quite possible that many more will descend on the city as the G20 world leaders arrive to press their myriad demands, many of which have nothing to do with the financial crisis. Late on Saturday, 1,500 demonstrators angrily demonstrated outside the Israeli Embassy chanting "five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terror state." According to newswire reports, several arrests have been made as missiles were thrown by protesters at the Embassy. The protesters made no attempt to actually link Israel to the financial crisis.
President Obama is due to arrive tomorrow at Stansted airport, north east of London, which should at least prevent mass disruption to Heathrow, London's largest terminal. There is much at risk here, and plenty of good reasons for President Obama to be here with the other G20 leaders to discuss the financial crisis, yet one has to hope they don't listen to any of the activists currently protesting in London. To do so would prolong the crisis, requiring the political economy battles of the 1940s-1970s to be rerun and re-won by those defending capitalism.
Roger Bate is a resident fellow at AEI.