Dead Men Left

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Make Poverty History: "co-opted" by New Labour?

The New Statesman:

Fears are growing that Make Poverty History has been co-opted by new Labour. The finger is being pointed at Oxfam, the UK's biggest development organisation, for allowing the movement's demands to be diluted and the message to become virtually indistinguishable from that of the government.

'course, anyone reading DML - or, for that matter, involved in any way at all with the movement - would have been aware of this already. Oxfam's policy on trade is dire, being (as the NS says) virtually indistinguishable from the government's: it has blithely promoted market liberalisation as a panacea for the world's ills since 2002, with little concern for ensuring concessions are won from the North on protecting Southern industries. (Jim at Our Word is Our Weapon deals with a still more extreme free-marketeer, interestingly by relying on Oxfam's own research. Suffice to say, trade liberalisation does not produce economic growth in the South, and nor does it reduce poverty.) Equally, Oxfam were the first major NGO to come out in favour of Brown's sham scheme, the International Financial Facility - angering other groups in MPH.

The NS suggests part of this closeness is the "revolving door" open between the NGO and the Labour government:

Part of the closeness is in the exchange of personnel. This is not new.
Frank Judd, a former director of Oxfam, became a Labour peer and spoke for the party on international development in the Lords in the 1990s. But the links have become more intimate under this government. Shriti Vadera, who advises Brown on international development, is an Oxfam trustee. Justin Forsyth was director of policy and campaigns at Oxfam before joining the Downing Street Policy Unit to advise Blair on the issue. When Oxfam recently advertised for Forsyth's successor, two of the four candidates called for vetting were either current or former special advisers. Vadera was on the interview panel. This process worries the likes of Mike Sansom, co-ordinator of the social justice organisation African Initiatives: "NGOs have been rightly critical of the revolving door between business and government, but the same has now become true of NGOs and government."

But the strongest bind is a deliberate strategic choice on Oxfam's part. Oxfam believes that by cosying up to Blair and Brown, it can gain some measure of influence over them. Instead, it appears to have to absorbed much of their agenda by osmosis, with little pressure being applied in the other direction. That agenda has remained unchanged since they entered government, as summed up by then International Development Secretary, Clare Short, to business leaders in 1999:

The assumption that our moral duties and business interests are in conflict is now demonstrably false… I am very keen that we maximise the impact of our shared interest in business and development by working together in partnership… We being access to other governments and influence in the multilateral system – such as the World Bank and IMF… You are well aware of the constraints business faces in the regulatory environment for investment in any country… Your ideas on overcoming these constraints can be invaluable when we develop our country strategies. We can use this understanding to inform our dialogue with governments and the multilateral institutions on the reform agenda.

The solution for campaigners wanting to avoid Brown's sticky embrace is to first, by any means necessary, get yourself up to Edinburgh on 2nd July for the MPH demonstration; but to second, make absolutely damn sure you are still in Scotland for the protest on Wednesday 6th against the G8. Time and time again, Brown and the other G8 leaders have failed on key promises over debt and trade, preferring to paper over a broken neoliberal agenda with fine words about "poverty reduction". That we have pushed them this far is a tribute to the strength of the global justice movement. We are not about to be broken; nor do we intend to be sold out.