G7: Another Summit, same old story

Dave Kellaway offers an analysis of the recent G7 conference in Cornwall.


Police crackdown on protests on global TV

£70 million of our money spent on a massive security operation for another summit in an out of the way places to make demonstrations very difficult. The fact that Carbis Bay is a good site for postcard shots for the leaders – and the Royal family – is an additional bonus. The claim is that this will boost tourism in the poorest county in England.

It’s not coincidental that Tories hold all the seats in Cornwall but with only a narrow majority over the Lib dems who have historically had one of their strongest bases in the area. been quite strong, The summit over the whole week will be ‘good for business they say. Removing the homeless from some of the hotels that hosted the 6500 or so police that were bussed was less publicised. In this area, people were still benefiting from the measures brought in during the pandemic to end street homelessness but security should ‘obviously’ take precedence

This security operation fits in the Tories Police crackdown bill currently going through parliament. On its G7 website, Devon & Cornwall Police has indicated that it plans to “ensure people can exercise their right to protest legally and safely without impacting upon residents and businesses” [our emphasis]. But how can any real protest not have some impact on local residents and businesses. Guess who gets to decide when that impact goes over some sort of unacceptable line – the police of course.

 At the same time the authorities have very magnanimously granted protesters a number of ‘official’ protest sites – mostly about 23 miles from the actual summit. An article from Netpol gives detailed references to how these measures break the Council of Europe’s Venice commission on protecting freedom of assembly.  Increasingly these global summits are also a powerful, media glorified presentation of the development of a global police state since the coverage is beamed back to all countries.

Reassurance and distraction

Mainstream media paints the scene in a reassuring tone – our leaders are cooperating to make things better. Look, they are taking on the big corporations with their global tax plans.  How wonderful  – They are ‘giving’ vaccines to the all those poor countries who do not get an invite to the rich countries summits.  Johnson is proposing his levelling up agenda to the whole world.

Then we have the celeb culture politico style. Aren’t they so human and normal, just like us really. Boris hand in hand with Carrie, Boris at the barbecue on the beach, Boris with the Queen and Biden,  Boris having an early morning swim and walking with Carrie again on the beach.  No wonder Tory strategists were factoring in a couple more points on the polls for Johnson after th summit.  You have to have the good lady wives doing the caring photo ops by visiting local schools while the men do the real work at the summit.

 It is all part of the routine media spin of these events.  News editors have the framework as their playbook and it is more or less repeated and repackaged for any new characters… With the mainstream media photo opportunities you are hopefully persuaded to forget the tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths that Johnson’s ‘management’ of the pandemic has inflicted on working people.

Since the summit is in Britain it gave the media a chance to big up a cameo role for the Queen.  It can polish up the brand at a time when there has been some shocks recently with the Bashir/Diana scandal and Harry/Meghans’ ongoing digs from California.  Former ambassadors are rolled out to wax lyrical about her wisdom, her quiet diplomacy, her role as queen of British soft power.  Somehow the mere fact that she has been around as unelected monarch while there has been 13 US presidents elected and she has met 12 of them somehow imbues her with Machiavellian political powers.

What have been the key issues for the defenders of the dominant forces of world capital?

Vaccine rollout to Global South – not so generous

How much support have the richest countries doled out to the poorest?

Today roughly70 per cent of adults in G7 countries are vaccinated against maybe 13 per cent in the Global South. Even if you take all the promises at face value, the G7 target is to supply a target of a billion doses. Sky News is now reporting that the real figure may be around 830 million. Once you halve the figures because people need two doses of the relevant vaccines then you are talking about reaching a maximum of 500 million people. I

It is difficult to be clear about which countries fall within the low income definition but sources estimate around 3 to 4 billion people need vaccines.  Already 500 million vaccinated is a hundred million less than those living under the international poverty standard of $1.90 a day. If you took a broader definition of poverty we are talking over 3 billion. A few journalists on the media have looked at the figures and understood that a billion doses might sound a lot but it is way below what is needed. More realistically 10 billion doses are needed.

Equally important this is not an immediate target but over two years – two years in which countless people will die as a result of not accessing the vaccine – and the danger of further mutations resistant to vaccines also escalates exponentially.

A spokesperson from Crown Agents, an international relief agency, pointed out on BBC Breakfast on Sunday June 13, some of the other obvious failing of this supposedly massive G7 vaccine donation.  Vaccination is not just about signing a cheque for so many shipments of vaccines. You also need infrastructure, trained staff, cold storage facilities, transport, logistical management and PPE, all of which is severely lacking in the Global South. No money has been earmarked for all that.

Crucially, despite requests from countries with vaccine production capacity like India, the G7 have made no moves to even temporarily lifting the patent requirement on the manufacture of vaccines. Much has been made of AstraZeneca providing doses at cost. However the cost price is still a big burden for poorer countries. A lot of nonsense is talked about how vaccines wouldn’t be invented without the profit motive – the idea that public health should and can be the result of public investment is miles from the minds of these people.

The G7 fundamentally defends the interests of global capital on this as on every other issue. Corporate pharmaceutical companies are a key component of their road map. The Tory Party has close relations with Big Pharma, politicians often are lobbyists for these companies or find a lucrative post-ministerial job with them.  These companies also make substantial contributions to their political campaigns.  States are in a symbiotic relationship with Big Pharma since governments finance research and then guarantee substantial purchases through national health services. Labour conferences back in the 1970s and 80s regularly passed motions supporting public ownership of these companies. It is a demand that the left should take up again today.

As Roy Wilkes argues elsewhere on this site:

The only effective zero Covid strategy therefore is a global zero Covid strategy, and that means a radical change of direction, particularly on the part of the rich states of the Global North we need to look far beyond the technical solutions of the vaccination program. (…)

In particular, we need a massive and unconditional redistribution of resources from the Global North to the Global South, to enable the historic victims of imperialism to develop the systems of find, test, trace, isolate, and support they will need to defeat the virus. The $1.7 trillion per annum currently spent globally on arms, for example, would be more than sufficient to eliminate Covid once and for all.

roy wilkes

Minimum global corporate tax rate – not really that tough

Biden has led on the plan to impose a minimum corporate tax rate with the intention of preventing big corporations from shifting their operations from one country to another to profit from the lowest tax rates. Amazon for example currently does this by having a headquarters in Luxemburg. It pays zero or very low tax in Britain. But unless your profits are more than 10% of your operations after all your costs and different reliefs are taken out then you will not have to pay the 15% proposed.

On this basis, Amazon apparently only made 6.3% profit on a turnover of 1.6 trillion. Consequently the absolute size of the company makes a big difference. 12% profit on a turnover of £5 million is worth a lot less but may be liable to the 15% tax since it is over 10%.  Companies offset their tax liability by investing in capital, donating to charities or making other accounting decisions. It should be also based on the size of the corporation.

As an informative article in the Independent (June 13th) comments about Amazon:

the company, with a market value of USD 1.6 trillion (£1.1 trillion) and sales of USD 386 billion in 2020, would slip out with the help of a loophole in the proposal since it runs its online retail business at very low profit margins.

The independent newspaper

It is a positive move to make international efforts to make taxation more equitable but this is all smoke and mirrors.  Richard Murphy, a noted tax expert accepts that it is a step in the right direction but is still far from sufficient. There are also several accounting problems. He tweeted:

“Who is defining profit margins? Is it one year or over time for example?.

richard murphy

No climate justice!

With Britain due to host the COP26 summit on Climate change in November in Glasgow, Johnson was keen to come out of the Cornwall summit with positive headlines on climate too. The question of climate finance is key if countries of the Global South, response for much less global warming than the Global North but already suffering the worst impacts are going to be able to transition from fossil fuels. Previous summits saw pledges of $100 billion climate finances by 2020 but there are a number of huge holes behind the spin.

  • Most of the money is ‘pledged’ but not actually sent
  • Most of the money is in the shape of loans – a set up that is anathema to those of us fighting for climate justice – given that loans and debt interest have been key over decades to reinforcing the system of international dependency and grinding poverty is so much of the global south

Carbis Bay did nothing to change this situation – the summit’s final declaration was long on rhetoric on and short on specifics complain campaigners in a situation where time is running out for all of us And only two countries – Canada and Germany actually pledged concrete amounts.

Sausages and chicken nuggets

There has been open disagreement between EU leaders such as Macron, the French President, and Johnson over the latter’s willingness to dodge out of the very agreement that he himself signed and described as a great deal.  As usual Johnson wants to have it both ways, to have his cake and eat it.  In order to get his shoddy Brexit deal through and present it to the electorate as done and dusted he signed an agreement that recognised that if Northern Ireland had the same rules as the rest of Britain then there would have to be a proper border between the Six Counties and the rest of Ireland, particularly since he had rejected the idea of a common customs area put forward by Labour for example.

This means there is an effective border down the Irish Sea between the Six Counties and the rest of Britain which avoids the reestablishment of a hard border on land which would jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement which is all about a ‘soft’ open border.  Johnson keeps blathering on about the EU not understanding that ‘we are an independent country now and we can negotiate what we want’ but the EU is only trying to stick to an agreement that he signed himself.  Some commentators think that despite making a bit of a song and a dance about it at the summit for the press he will eventually do a deal since his majority and poll standings allow him to see off any flak from his super hard Brexit group of MPs.

Once again the whole episode shows how Brexit was more about a right wing political project and getting Johnson into number 10 than any rational project either for British capital or for the general interests of working people.

Protesting the G7

A coalition of organisations under the banner “Resist G7”* organised demonstrations as did Extinction Rebellion South West.

Thousands took to the sea and  streets to make their voices heard by the G7 leaders. At Falmouth there was a paddle out with more than 1000 surfers, kayakers and swimmers organised by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) to call for more protection for the world’s seas and oceans. Hugh Taghom, SAS leader stated:

We’ve seen in the pandemic that they can mobilise huge amounts of money and collaborate to create vaccines in just a year. But they need to act with the same urgency for the nature, biodiversity and ecological crisis. Now’s the time for radical action – business as usual is killing planet ocean. Observer  June 13th

hugh taghom (surfers against sewage)

The Observer also reported that members of Extinction Rebellion (XR) made a procession through the town and up to the media centre for the summit, calling on the world’s journalists to “tell the truth” on climate change on other issues.  Other members of XR scrubbed the windows of the HSBC Bank, claiming it was investing heavily in fossil fuels while “fobbing us off with greenwashing”. About 200 people marched through the town of Hayle, near Carbis Bay, as part of a “Resist G7” protest.

These protests are important. Given the iron security, the pandemic and location it is would have been a miracle if they had been any larger. Nobody got any closer than a mile from the summit. It does make you think why was £70 million of public money needed to create such a ring of steel around the summit. How much work did the 6500 police really have to do except maybe worry about getting sunburnt?

*Draft motions and a general statement from the Resist G7 coalition can be read here

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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