David Miller: How To Spin The G8
How To Spin The G8
David Miller, 16 May 2005
The government strategy is to divide 'bad' from 'good' G8 protestors. Once done, the presentation of the Labour government as 'progressive' on Africa and development allows the government to attempt to co-opt the Make Poverty History coalition.
It would be very odd if people came to protest against this G8, as we're focusing on poverty in Africa and climate change. I don't quite know what they'll be protesting against.
Tony Blair in Dundee, March 2005
Blair's mixture of perplexity and faux naivety is no off the cuff response. There is a clear strategy unfolding before us. The Prime Minister and his cohorts in government and in the police, special branch and MI5 have been busy with their strategy of trying to undermine and marginalise protest against their failed policies when they meet at Gleneagles this summer. The first part of the strategy is to separate the 'good protestors' from the bad ones. This is done first, by whipping up fear about the prospects of trouble at the G8 summit and second by suggesting that New Labour is on the side of the angels. They are building on the 'progressive consensus' in the phrase Schools minister David Miliband recites by rote.
We will come to the reality of New Labour policy shortly, but for the moment let's stay with the demonisation campaign. The aim is to suggest that anyone who protests against the G8 is illegitimate. The police have joined in enthusiastically encouraging increasingly wild media stories about anarchist training camps, plans for violent protests and the like.
But the government have appeared to be facing two ways on the issue. As early as January 2nd this year, Trade minister and Scottish MP Douglas Alexander could be found promoting the ‘massive rally… planned for Edinburgh on Saturday, July 2, to send the world leaders a message with a triple theme: Trade Justice, Drop the Debt and More and Better Aid.’ ‘The Make Poverty History campaign is a cause whose time has come. In Government, we know we will be challenged by this extraordinary coalition of people who care’, he went on. 
Blair has endorsed this view in the interview cited above he noted 'There will be people who come out on the street in favour of the Make Poverty History campaign and that's a good thing.' The good protestors will be tolerated, but the bad protestors will not. ‘Asked whether [the government] would use the new anti-terror laws against G8 protesters, Blair said: “I couldn't rule it out”’  Even before being given the nod by the Prime Minister the police and intelligence services were preparing the ground to legitimise repression and police violence. This depends crucially on spreading fear and rumour about alleged threats from shadowy forces. The prize for the earliest reporting of ‘anarchists’ and the 'environmental "dogs of war"' goes to the Glasgow Herald on 26 January 2004, more than a year and a half before the summit. This was followed in short order by reports of ‘thousands of violent anarchists’ (Daily Star 27 January 2004), ‘Anarchists plotting to hijack’ the summit (Sunday Times, 13 June 2004), ‘Anarchists vow to storm Airport and block forth bridge’ (Daily Mirror, 14 June 2004) 'Anarchists start school for havoc' (Scotland on Sunday, 12 December 2004), ‘anarchists planning violence protests’ (Sunday Times, 17 October 2004) and so on. There is an apparent obsession with exaggerating every detail. Thus a publicly advertised workshop become a ‘secret camp’ (Scotland on Sunday, 12 December 2004) and a camp site becomes a ‘military style camp’ (Sunday Times, 17 April 2005). The coverage is building to a crescendo in the run up to the summit itself. Apart from the routine inaccuracy, exaggeration and hyperbole of this reporting, it should go without saying that the main problem with it is the almost total failure to report the issues (including the war in Iraq, global poverty, climate justice, corporate power and lots more) which will drive thousands of us to protest against he G8 except in terms favourable to political and business elites.
Much of the reporting results from briefings from police and intelligence sources with the line between legitimate mass protest and the alleged 'terrorist threat' being deliberately blurred. Thus the spooks ‘reveal’ that ‘British intelligence agents are disguising themselves as down-and-outs in “key terrorist target areas” as part of a nationwide surveillance operation to foil attacks by al-Qaeda.’ This is reportedly in use in areas ‘considered to be potential terror targets… such as around Westminster and the Scottish parliament’. Other reports follow (in this case, the very next day) indicating that ‘a steel fence will be built around the Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyrood house ahead of the G8 summit at Gleneagles in an effort to tighten security against protesters.’ The propaganda builds by the government and intelligence agencies encouraging panic and the media amplifying it. Thus we get ‘British intelligence agents have been briefing police chiefs on how to tackle terrorist threats at the Gleneagles G8 summit' on April 11 this year and then a succession of stories on the response of business including the boss of the Gleneagles Hotel (owned by Diageo) prediction that ‘riots may cost millions’ and companies, such as Shell and McDonalds, announcing that they will board up their premises. There are even alleged to be plans to shut down the operations of HBOS, Abbey and four other ‘blue-chip’ firms in Edinburgh
The spiral of panic suits some very well, since they can make money out of it. Here is how the scam works. The press have repeatedly quoted 'Security consultants' about the risk of trouble around the summit. Two such are Clive Fairweather and Stuart Crawford, who regularly warn about a 'greater degree of organisation than had previously been recognised' amongst protestors which 'fuelled fears that violent… protests would erupt'(Crawford, Scotland on Sunday 12 December 2004) or that the protestors 'will be most interested in publicity' and so will focus their efforts on the 'temptation' of Edinburgh, Glasgow or Stirling' (Fairweather, Scotland on Sunday, 3 April 2005) or that 'I think it is far more likely there will be protests in cities like Edinburgh than at the summit itself' (Fairweather, Scotland on Sunday, 8 May 2005)
In fact both men work for Stuart Crawford Associates which describes itself as 'specialising in Scottish public affairs, security issues and media communications' - in other words public relations. The worse the warnings, the better the business. At present they are engaged in advising the Gleneagles Estates (bordering the Gleneagles hotel and owned by seriously old money) and possibly other business interests. Their background is in the British Army, Crawford is a former Lt Colonel and Fairweather a Colonel. He was second in command of the SAS when it raided the Iranian embassy in London in 1980, killing all but one of the hostage takers and, according to eye witnesses, executing two of them after they had surrendered. Amongst their former clients are the 'Scottish People's Alliance' a political party linked to the 'New party', which was condemned by the Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie as 'fascist and undemocratic'. Both parties are run by Robert Durward, the Scottish business man who also runs the British Aggregates Association (also listed as a former client of Stuart Crawford Associates).
In other words trained killers with dubious connections to far right politics are posing as security experts and briefing the media on the dangers faced from protests. The more the dangers are hyped the more likely it is that they might be hired. At best this is a conflict of interest, at worst a conspiracy against democratic protest for pecuniary interest. Certainly the media do not yet seem to see a story in the fact that trained killers are advising on the security response to protests at Gleneagles. They prefer to refer to 'military style' training given to 'anarchists' whose total tally of killing of civilians or military personnel in the last decade is zero. This compares very favourably with the tally attributed to US and UK forces in Iraq in the year 2003-4 alone (over 100,000).
But the smearing of protestors as violent has been rebuffed to some extent by the G8 alternatives coalition which has applied for permission to demonstrate at Gleneagles. The police publicly accept the right to protest, but raise fears especially in off the record briefings about a minority bent on trouble. This translates in the media as shop smashing, police attacking, masked anarchists. But if one looks carefully at police statements there is cause for concern about their plans. Reports about the importation or authorisation of water cannon and plastic bullets , have fuelled fears expressed by the MSP for the Gleneagles area Roseanna Cunningham who noted ‘there is actually a real danger that all the talk of armed police, surface-to-air missiles and holding compounds will make the fears of violence, understandable after Genoa and Seattle, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some of it looks suspiciously like the police effectively saying: “Come on if you think you're hard enough”.’ The line between protest (including non violent direct action) and violence is blurred deliberately by some sections of the police as a means of legitimating police aggression against demonstrators engaged in peaceful protest. Scotland has a well known tradition of non violent protest such as the regular blockades of Faslane nuclear base. There is no reason not to treat non violent protests any differently around the G8. But already the MoD briefers at Faslane have been busy advising willing hacks that 'Our intelligence people are monitoring the situation closely'. 'We're used to this sort of thing but the people planning it are not the ordinary peaceful protesters. They have a different agenda.' Such lies easily find a place in the sun in the press. If there is trouble at Gleneagles, it will not just be the police that are to blame, it will be their willing propagandists in the press. They should hang their heads in shame.
Can we discern the outlines of a strategy here? When Noam Chomsky visited Scotland in March one of the questions he was asked at a press conference was what should be the reaction of the protestors to the hysteria about violence. Chomsky noted that this is a classic pattern and that no doubt agent provocateurs working for the police or the intelligence services would be present amongst the demonstrators. His most important message, developed later in the day in the Gifford lecture, was that governments attempt to move the political debate and the strategies of resistance to their policies away from substantive political issues where they are very weak and towards issues and acts of violence, because that is where they are strong. Chomsky noted specifically what he called the important victories of non violent resistance in Iraq, which he claimed forced the US and UK to hold elections. But he also noted the desperation of our rulers to keep us from discussing anything which might threaten their power. Their real record is not one which bears examination so they attempt to divert attention onto the issue of violence. In any violent confrontation, Chomsky noted, the forces of the state have overwhelming firepower and resources. But on the political issues they stand exposed as defenders of privilege and corporate power.
This is why a second element to the official strategy is their desperation to appear as if they are progressives and as a result to attempt to co-opt the Make Poverty History coalition. Blair has been sporting his white MPH wrist band, Bono refers to Brown and Blair as the 'Lennon and McCartney' of poverty reduction. Both Blair and Brown have been making speeches on their commitment to Africa. In January, Brown made a long speech that in its own terms sounded serious about his concern to make poverty history. He noted the 'hopelessness and human loss that lies behind the numbers' and reported that in Tanzania he 'saw 8, 9, 10, 11 year old children begging to continue in school - but denied the chance because their parents could not pay the fees.' He concluded with a clarion call to make the 'arc of the moral universe… bend towards justice'
On the launch of the Commission for Africa Report, the centrepiece of the government’s policy for the G8, the BBC listed eight findings requiring action by the West. They included doubling or trebling aid, forgiving debt, spend more on HIV/AIDS, fund African universities, remove trade barriers to African exports in the West.  Not much there to disagree with. But, in the report itself, a different picture emerges. Journalists need only read the summaries of the various chapters to get a clue about the real agenda. For example goals for economic growth in Africa are said in Chapter 7 to be possible 'only if the obstacles of… a discouraging investment climate are overcome'. This involves 'public and private sector working together to identify the obstacles to a favourable investment climate'. What this means is more liberalisation and privatisation and more opportunities for western corporations to exploit African resources and labour. 'Investments in infrastructure and the enabling climate for the private sector are at the top of the agenda' says the summary of the next chapter. These passages are available for all to see but are commonly suppressed in the mainstream media (including the allegedly left leaning papers the Guardian  and the Independent). They provide a clue to the real agenda of the government, which is to spearhead neoliberal reform in Africa.
Also closely involved with the work of the Commission forAfrica is Business Action for Africa (BAA) a coalition of over 250 senior business representatives. BAA met with the Commission for Africa prior to finalising their report in February 2005. This followed a 'programme of formal consultations between the CFA and the private sector in Africa, Europe and North America'. This was accomplished through the 'Business contact group' established in July 2004 at a meeting chaired by Niall Fitzgerald of Reuters and Chancellor Gordon Brown. Its programme was managed by the 'private sector Advisor' to the commission for Africa, an employee of Shell and input in the US and Canada was ensured through business lobby groups the Corporate Council on Africa and the Canadian Council on Africa, both representing trans-national capital.
The corporations involved can barely contain their excitement. The 'outlook' of the business community is a 'positive one' says one of the CFA commissioners. 'It believes Africa is the next frontier for investment'. James Smith, the UK chair of Shell, which co-hosted the meeting noted that progress 'requires that the private sector has a bigger role'. The chair of the Commonwealth Business Council, the business lobby group co-hosting the meeting, read out the concluding statement. Dr Mohan Kaul affirmed that 'getting the conditions right for doing business in Africa is the biggest single investment for the future well-being of its citizens'. A 'vibrant and successful private sector… is required' he noted.
Amongst their duties in this adventure corporations 'should' sign 'leading codes of good social and environmental conduct'. The one apparent crumb of comfort is that 'Corporate governance principles should clearly identify and punish malpractice'. But this is a mirage as there is no requirement to sign and the codes noted (such as the UN global compact and the Global Reporting Initiative) are all voluntary and do not have any provisions or appetite for 'punishing' corporate wrongdoing. This is their unifying and defining characteristic. Unsurprisingly, therefore we find that the corporations sponsoring the BAA conference are amongst the worst currently engaged in the exploitation of Africa including Shell (oil), Anglo American (mining), Rio Tinto (mining), De Beers (diamonds), Diageo, SAB Miller (both Drinks industry, use vast quantities of water), GSK (pharmaceuticals), British American Tobacco, and Unilever, (food and consumer products). Also involved are the providers of capital who profiteer from exploitation such as Standard Chartered bank and the venture capital fund Capital for Development.
This pro-business agenda is nowhere clearer than in the statements of the IMF. Its International Monetary and Financial Committee, met on 16 April in Washington and reiterated the neo-liberal mantra that 'the key challenge remains to press ahead with reforms to strengthen the investment environment and foster private sector led growth’ The Committee ‘emphasizes that successful and ambitious multilateral trade liberalization is central to sustained global growth and economic development'. This is as unsurprising as it is damaging to Africa and the rest of the world. The committee met in the middle of an election campaign in the UK, but the chair of the committee - Gordon Brown - managed to find time to attend. Those hankering after the accession of the Chancellor to No 10. take note.
Brown's mention of Tanzania in his speech in January 2005 is particularly inappropriate since the problems of education fees in that country are the direct result of IMF structural adjustment which forced the Tanzanian government to introduce the market into education. ‘Education's share in total budget percentage fell from 11.85% in 1983/84 to 6.95% in 1990/91’. ‘Government expenditures on education, health, and other social sectors had to be cut in order to meet conditions of donor countries and international lending institutions’. What Brown gives, with apparent sincerity, with one hand is the means for the corporations to take away with the other. He offers, in other words not fine words unmatched by practice, but the very tools for the corporations to swoop on Africa and bleed it dry.
This is nowhere more apparent than in relation to aid, where the promised increases come with strings attached - they require liberalisation. Even worse, the Department for International Development aid budget directly funds privatisation PR campaigns run by the far right Adam Smith Institute and others.  In such obscene circumstances cutting aid to the developing world would be a better policy.
In fact the UK government is at the forefront of the new corporate drive to open up markets throughout the developing world. The adoption of some of the rhetoric of the Make Poverty History campaign is both a sign of the success of the movement and an indication of the dangers of co-option. Sadly some of the organisations involved in MPH are less than clear about this. For example Justin Forsyth Oxfam's campaign manager noted in 2002 that ‘When you speak to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, they really understand these issues. They are easily some of the best leaders when it comes to talking about development and dismantling subsidy, and they are making the right arguments time and again.’
Last year Forsyth left Oxfam to work as Blair's advisor of International Development. Meanwhile Brown's advisor on International Development, Shriti Vadera, described by the Guardian as 'tough-talking' and 'not suffering bright junior officials, let alone fools, gladly' is a former director at the US bank UBS Warburg and 'expert' on, and advocate of, 'the complex funding behind public-private partnerships'. Amongst her other roles Vadera sits on the Oxfam Council of Trustees, Oxfam’s the governing body. 
These relations are not necessarily corrupt, but the lack of critique of Brown and Blair and the apparent lack of recognition of the real agenda of the UK government by some in the development NGOs does suggest that the prospect of co-option of some sections of the movement is real.
The strategy to divide and rule is real and if we are to have any prospect of undermining the spin and building popular forces to turn back neo-liberalism, we should confront the failed policies of the G8 head on. This requires the broadest possible movement and in particular a battle on the terrain of politics and ideology. On the terrain of politics, the fact that we are many and they are few counts. Their policies on climate, on Iraq, on Africa, on global poverty (and the rest) have failed, it is time for us to declare that another world is possible and to make it so.
David Miller is co-editor of Arguments against G8 published by Pluto and co-editor of Spinwatch http://www.spinwatch.org/.
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