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Legitim8

2 July 2005

Frankly, I am terrified. Nuggets of wisdom offered by my fellow passengers on the Globalise Resistance train to Edinburgh today watered seeds of discontent that were planted in my head when Make Poverty History's head honchos made it clear, about four months ago, that their agenda would be pursued directly through the Group of Eight. Their aims of more and better aid, debt relief and trade justice would be best pursued, they reasoned, by schmoozing with eight men who preside over aid systems that route cash back through domestic businesses at extortionate prices, whose countries, through the Bretton Woods Institutions, claw back vast debt repayments for loans foisted onto the Third World, and whose internal subsidies banjax every type of farming in the developing world with the exception of drugs. It seems akin to asking Caligula to oversee a bingo night.

The look on George Monbiot's face as he surveyed the front page of Friday's Guardian did nothing to allay my fears. “Look at them,” he said, reluctantly surveying a shot of Bob Geldof tenderly laying his head on Tony Blair's shoulder (about eight inches from his bleeding heart). “They look like they've just had sex. By the morning they'll be so far up each others' bums you'll only be able to see their feet.” An apt image, if a thoroughly unpleasant one to contemplate. The G8, Monbiot concluded was the heir of 18th century aristocracy – and MPH was giving it cred.

Others on the train (certainly the most enjoyable train journey I have undertaken in the UK, and with the added luxury of being able to smoke out of the windows) made the same point, if less graphically. “We have to have a critical engagement with Make Poverty History,” said Richard Moth. “Its leaders are pandering to the G8.” Moth was off to his first big anti-capitalist demo (the one on Wednesday, that is) since he was beaten black and blue by Genoese police in 2001. After four days of pummellings, Moth and the other British detainees were released, only to hear Blair commend the carabinieri for the way they handled a difficult situation.

When, after eight hours of banter with the informed, active left, we docked at Edinburgh Waverley, to be greeted by a platoon of police photographers. Others I have spoke to here have had more heavy-handed treatment; every passenger on one coach from Northern Island was searched and snapped by Dumfries and Borders coppers as they entered Scotland. That makes sense. If the bands at Live 8 can't mention Bush (can they mention Cheney? Negroponte? Wolfowitz?), it simply wouldn't do for the protesters in Edinburgh to mention Enron, Darfur, Tanzania, El Alto, Uribe, Sharon or Mbeki now would it?

It seems you're either wearing white tomorrow or you're blacklisted. Indeed, when we registered for the out-of-town campsite, a white plastic bracelet was strapped to our wrists.

Strolling though the Meadows inglorious sunshine, my unease waxed still further at the marked ungrubbiness. “It couldn't look less like a protest,” I remarked as we passed sound stages, marquees and a converted bus. “That,” replied the photographer I am here with, “is because it isn't a protest.”

My mission tomorrow is thus to find people who will stand up for MPH in good faith. That may prove as tricky as a recent story in which I had to find people buying the Coldplay album to defend their purchase (most were “buying it for Dad”). In the interests of fiery reading and open debate, I would very much like to see someone stick up for MPH in this blog.

My fear is this: I see a final communiqué issued by the G8 on Friday. It has echoes the G7 finance ministers pledge to back HIPC; there is a big aid boost, with some waffle about untying aid; there is almost nothing on trade, apart from an exhortation for the WTO – effectively controlled by exactly the same men – to complete the Doha round in December and enshrine wanton neo-liberalism in Western development policy for good. Then (I quake at the thought), Oxfam, Bono, Curtis and Geldof proclaim the MPH “the great victory of our generation”, and the G8 inherits the wristband of legitimacy from “civil society”. And if that makes me quake, I dread to think what it will do to those in Dar-es-Salaam, Port-au-Prince and Banda Aceh.

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