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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
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
Roger Bate is a resident fellow at AEI.
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