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Let them eat cake

Few gatherings of world leaders can have shown greater political impotence alongside callous indifference than those currently gathered in Hokkaido, Japan, for the annual G8 summit. Protected from protestors as usual by a massive display of force, they are truly the leaders of the new world disorder.

Yesterday they discussed famine in Africa and rising food prices. But organisations like Oxfam had already sounded the alarm bells about whether commitments made at Gleneagles as long ago as 2005 will actually be adhered to. As to even earlier promises, Oxfam declared: “The Millennium Development Goals that were set out in 2000 were chosen because they were ambitious, but also because they were realistic and achievable. The current delays in meeting these commitments are a disgrace.”

But are the G8 leaders really bothered about the world’s poor and hungry? Judging by the lavish feast for Bush, Brown and company laid on by the Japanese hosts, the answer is a resounding ‘No’. While the prime minister was urging Britons to tighten their belts and stop wasting food, he and the other G8 leaders sat down to replenish themselves with an eight-course, 19-dish dinner prepared by 25 chefs. Perhaps the fact that there had only been four courses and wine for lunch had merely whetted their appetite.

Billed as a "world food shortages summit" – which is costing £238 million to stage – there was no sign of that at the banquet at the luxury Windsor hotel. The starter alone included caviar, sea urchin, smoked salmon, hot onion tart and winter lily bulb. Hairy crab Kegani bisque-style soup was another feature in a meal prepared by the Michelin chef Katsuhiro Nakamura. Other dishes included milk-fed lamb, roasted lamb and black truffle.

Marie Antoinette reputedly told starving French peasants to go and eat cake if they couldn’t afford bread. And we know what happened to her as a result. But that’s rushing ahead. What about the G8’s capacity for getting to grips with the world economic crisis and accelerating climate change by showing some political leadership? Not much doing on that front either, I’m afraid.

A statement released today could only say: “We remain positive about the long-term resilience of our economies and future global economic growth.” As to rising oil and food prices, the G8 leaders were only concerned that they posed a “serious challenge to stable growth worldwide”. Then it was back to insisting there was no alternative to the market economy and that “globalisation is a key driver for global economic growth and strong, prosperous economies”.

This is simply unreal. The corporate-driven globalised economy is facing its biggest crisis since 1929. A seemingly insoluble credit crunch is linked to falling output, rising prices, sharply increasing unemployment (especially in housebuilding where sales have slumped) and a loss of confidence. By all accounts, the Chinese economy is also coming off the rails at a rapid rate.

The G8 communiqué simply poured oil on troubled water and was followed this morning by a further crash in shares in London, with troubled lender Bradford & Bingley heading for total meltdown. The British Chambers of Commerce's (BCC) quarterly report didn’t help. A survey of almost 5,000 small, medium and large businesses suggested that the UK is facing a serious risk of recession within months.

As for cutting carbon emissions, the G8’s fine words cut no ice with environmental campaigners. “This is a complete failure of responsibility. They haven't moved forward at all. They've ducked the responsibility of adopting clear midterm targets and even the 2050 target is not a single thing more than what we got in Heiligendamm," said Daniel Mittler, political adviser for Greenpeace International, referring to the German town where last year's G8 was held.

So back to Marie Antoinette. Just like her, the G8 leaders are promoting a failing economic and political system at the expense of the masses. A movement in the spirit of the French Revolution of 1789 would be the best response.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
8 July 2008

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