Day 2 at the G20 for Robin Hood: Elvis and Geometry
I am sitting in the main auditorium at the press centre at 11.30 at night waiting with the world’s press for Sarkozy and Merkel to turn up to do a press conference. They are 30 minutes late. Rumours are flashing around the room, the best one being that they have grown so bored of talking about the euro crisis they have fallen asleep on each other. A new chapter in the ever closer Franco-German union.
The day started early as we made our way to the press centre, on the beach front at Cannes. Before you start spitting with jealousy, I should add that the actual press centre is in the basement of the conference centre and there are no windows. The only light is fluorescent and reflects nicely off the day-glo green carpet, which was last seen in a Duran Duran video. We might as well be in Milton Keynes. Still the coffee is good. Very few press had arrived, but we talked to who we can and pushed round our release for the day.
Based on a survey of government budgets over this year and next, Oxfam is predicting that we could see the greatest drop in aid in 15 years. This would be a scandal, as cutting aid budgets is a purely totemic gesture, a soft target for hard times.
The actual amounts of aid given are a miniscule portion of budgets and negligible for rich country balance sheets. This means countries like Mozambique or Niger starved of money to help get their kids into school, or cuts in funding for vital aids or malaria medicines. At the same time with a shrinking aid pie, all the new money for climate finance has been taken from existing aid budgets.
Effectively we are now flood-proofing the house of a family in Bangladesh but at the cost of their girl’s education. Oxfam is clear that climate change is a new and vital issue, and that finance for it should be new and additional to the aid promises made. Certainly unless overall aid budgets are going up leaders should get no credit whatsoever for announcing big new spending on particular initiatives as they are simply cannibalising others.
We went straight from the press centre to our Robin Hood photo stunt by the sea in Nice. It looked fantastic with the G20 leaders all in the infamous big masks, signing an enormous parchment in favour of the FTT, whilst being watched over by a very Gallic looking Robin des Bois. It looked brilliant and the press thought so too, with lots of coverage including the front of the BBC website. There was lots of coverage for yesterday’s march and the Sherwood striptease.
Whilst this was going on in Nice, the heads of the big NGOs were meeting with Sarkozy in Paris. Disappointingly he seemed poorly briefed on the latest developments with the FTT coalition of pioneers, and was unaware of South African support. He has of course been somewhat distracted by the unfolding Greek tragedy, but nevertheless we hoped he would have been more aware and more positive. Nevertheless discussions are yet to really take place until tomorrow, and although time is running very short, there is still scope for progress.
Today we also heard from both the Indonesians and the Brazilians that they support an FTT that contributes to financing development, but they are looking to Sarkozy for leadership, and are not hopeful for significant progress. On a more positive note, the South African Broadcast Company interviewed the South African finance minister today and he gave his strongest endorsement yet of the FTT, and said they would be keen to support Sarkozy’s initiative.
All day in the UK we continued to bask in the sun of celestial endorsement, with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury running as a top story on BBC news. He was joined later by the more terrestrially important Bill Gates, in London on his way to Cannes and talking to as many as he could. He was very strong on the FTT, saying clearly that he did not understand why the UK would oppose others implementing it, as the UK already has a Stamp Duty on shares.
This is a brilliant argument and one it is very hard for David Cameron to refute. It also puts the French on the spot too, as in the worst case scenario they could move ahead with a similar tax unilaterally even if they fail to secure any other countries in support.
I had my numbers wrong yesterday and in fact 80,000 people have contacted Cameron in the last two weeks. He said he understands why people are frustrated with the rich, but does not support a Robin Hood Tax. We are wondering now what more we can do. There is talk of a joint op ed by Elvis and Churchill in this week’s Horse and Hound magazine, which may finally convince him. We live in perpetual hope.
Today we also released opinion polls in the UK, where the public back an FTT by a margin of two to one, and in Germany, where an amazing 75% of Germans support an FTT to finance the fight against poverty at home and abroad, and to combat climate change. In the US democratic congressmen have introduced legislation calling for this tax, and key influential figures continue to back it. This is clearly a very popular tax indeed.
Merkel and Sarkozy have finally turned up, looking very tired indeed. I was thinking today that if Greece were a developing country, the level of brutal economic adjustment their ordinary citizens have been forced to endure would have caused uproar around the world. Of course they should be allowed to vote. Yesterday I saw banners talking about the tyranny of Moody’s and it really is a challenge of democracy versus plutocracy. Nevertheless I wish they would sort it out as everything else risks being completely drowned out in the next few days as the markets dictate the agenda once again.
The best idea I heard all day was that Greece should retrospectively copyright geometry, as that would raise hundreds of billions to help them out of their hole. Now that is what I call an innovative finance idea.