Magazine article The Spectator

The G20 Summit Is Lousy Value for Money. Cancel It

Magazine article The Spectator

The G20 Summit Is Lousy Value for Money. Cancel It

Article excerpt

It is difficult to look at the photographs of the world's finance ministers, bank chiefs and assorted hangers-on assembled at a hotel in West Sussex last weekend without thinking of those old BT ads with the slogan, 'Why not change the way we work?' Has anything come out of the meeting of G20 finance minsters in Horsham, or will come out of the follow-up heads-of-government summit in Docklands on 2 April, which could not have been achieved by phone, email or video-conference? Maybe the world's leaders should have followed their usual platitudes about looking to the future and engaging the young by holding the whole thing on Facebook instead.

We all know the real reason why 22 world leaders -- the presence of Spain and the Netherlands has spoiled the name somewhat -- will be trekking to the workaday ExCel Centre a week on Thursday. Gordon Brown wants to create himself a Bretton Woods moment. He wants to pose at the centre of a photograph of men saving the world (and it really will be the men, as Ms Merkel is clearly in no mind to do Gordon's bidding for him). He wants to thumb his nose at Nicolas Sarkozy and say, look, I got Barack Obama first. Above all, he wants to create the image of himself as a seasoned operator on the international stage and David Cameron as a pipsqueak outsider who can't be trusted in such turbulent times.

It has become a standard tactic of a leader under pressure at home: go and strut the global political stage. At least at a summit everyone is polite to your face. Gordon can pose as being beyond the narrow world of Westminster -- when of course he is focused absolutely on the election which must come within 14 months. The international pose is not guaranteed to work: Mrs Thatcher didn't do herself any favours by missing an EU summit in Paris on the day of Michael Heseltine's challenge against her in 1990.

But Gordon Brown hasn't forgotten the sudden fillip in his poll ratings last autumn when he briefly appeared to be leading the world out of the banking crisis.

As for the idea that G20 will provide the seed from which will rise the fabled green shoots of recovery in the global economy, forget it. The script of the heads of government meeting can be written before it begins. Brown and Obama will demand that the world's other large economies throw ever larger quantities of money at their economies -- the US wants everyone to commit to spending 2 per cent of GDP on emergency spending. Ms Merkel will say, 'Stuff that: it's your banking crisis that caused all this; I'm not going to throw good German money down the drain.' Everyone will, however, agree to throw more money at the IMF, though to what exact purpose they won't be agreed. All leaders will then serve up platitudes about the importance of encouraging free trade at a time like this, before hurrying home to sign yet another bail-out for the restive voters in some rustbelt industry. But before that, the tea will be served and there will be a nice photograph -- though not too nice. Country houses had been scouted for the G20 summit, but perhaps realising that the imagery of posing among urns and balustrades wouldn't have been ideal in the middle of a recession the government opted for the Isle of Dogs instead.

In spite of the spartan surroundings, the G20 will run up a reported bill of £50 million. A bill of £5 million alone will go to the company organising the staging and sound equipment. The enormous security bill will, in a typical piece of Brownomics, appear offbalance sheet -- the police have not been granted a specific budget, so resources will have to be switched from other areas. You can be sure that there won't be time for much other policing in London on 2 April.

The presence of so many world leaders in the capital at a time of huge public anger over bank bonuses has already stirred the juices of all manner of protest groups who are threatening to put tens of thousands on the street.

What will we get in return for our money? …

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