My main achievement as Student Liberal Democrats international officer 1990-91, was putting the case for third world debt cancellation on the agenda of a major British political party. I wrote a campaign pack for branches and the idea went forward to the grown-ups as something the students thought they should look at. I don’t really know what happened after that, but I’m sure they looked upon it sympathetically. Nevertheless, we anti-debt campaigners probably did look like typically naïve and idealistic students, so it didn’t go to the top of the agenda.
How times change. Back then it was hard to be proud of Britain. The Thatcher government was working overtime to protect apartheid South Africa from sanctions and doing it all it could to support Saddam Hussein. Cabinet ministers openly daydreamed of what they could do with the freedom to exercise power like General Pinochet. Fortunately, I’m just too young to have witnessed the Young Conservatives in their ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ t-shirts as Norman Tebbit (who’s still fighting in vain to keep that sort out of the party) had already disbanded the Federation of Conservative Students.
Anyway. The importance of Labour’s success in persuading the G8 to cancel debt cannot be understated. For too many years wealth has left the world’s poorest nations for the world’s richest. But I should point out that all those years ago our campaign was aimed at private banks, especially Midland now HSBC, and many feel this debt is more urgent. That debtor countries have some hoops to go through is fair enough, but I’ll never understand how it can be responsible to lend to corrupt and barbaric dictatorships in the first place… or why governments should go so far to protect wealthy private interests from the obvious risks.
And yet, many people can’t quite believe this is the same Tony Blair who took them to war in Iraq. I don’t have that problem, having ended my student days endorsing the ‘Free Kuwait’ campaign (and current war now) it’s all déjà vu to me. The New Statesman’s US correspondent Andrew Stephen casts doubt on the special relationship. Bush and Blair aren’t ideological soul mates, like Bush and Australia’s Howard. British lobbying tactics made the US uncomfortable. Well good. Australia’s a follower nation and poodle to both the US and UK, while Blair’s surprised us all by having the courage to call in a big favour and make a real difference. Be proud.
Make poverty history or indulge the soap opera