“A more violent crowd in uniform than the crowd demonstrating”

Via flickr user woo-war

Via flickr user woo-war

The story of Ian Tomlinson’s death following an assault by a police officer during the G20 riots continues to develop: last night Channel 4 News found new footage providing additional context to the assault, while the Independent Police Complaints Commission announced that it will undertake the investigation into Tomlinson’s death itself – rather than (as initially planned) outsourcing it to the City of London Police, who were involved in policing protests on the day.  Now, attention is focusing on the prospect of a criminal prosection.  As former deputy assistant police commissioner Brian Paddick put it yesterday,

If it is held that there is a link between the violence he [the officer] was inflicting and the heart attack [suffered by Tomlinson], that then is an assault, resulting in death, albeit unintended. If a court held it is an assault, it is an unlawful action resulting in manslaughter.

But in focusing on whether the officer who beat Tomlinson and shoved him to the ground will be prosecuted, we risk losing sight of a bigger point – that this was far from an isolated incident.

To see why, read the following disturbing account of how the police cleared the “climate camp” on Bishopsgate that took place later that day.  The account was written by a friend and colleague, Chris Abbott – the deputy director of the Oxford Research Group, and (ironically, in view of what happened) a leading expert on conflict resolution – in an email sent to me and others, and reproduced with his permission.

I went down to the climate camp after work on Wednesday as I had heard that it was completely peaceful and I wanted to see what it was like. Unfortunately, I got trapped there when the police first charged and then penned everyone in early in the evening and none of us could get out (this was about 7.00-7.30pm). Footage of this is now on YouTube. During this first, entirely unprovoked, attack I lost my girlfriend in the crowd – but I later found out she was punched by a policeman while trying to stop another girl being trampled on after being knocked to the floor.

Once that had calmed down, my girlfriend and I found each other and were sat with others in front of the line of riot police on the south side of Bishopsgate. It was completely peaceful once again and we were even joking and talking with the police. We were there for a couple of hours when they suddenly charged again without any warning (this was about 9.30-10.00pm). We were still sat down and offered no resistance at all. My girlfriend was pressure pointed on the neck (extremely painful), dragged backwards off me and had both her wrists bent behind her back by two policemen who threatened to break them. They dragged her outside the police cordon and then said “what should we do with her now?” before the other said “let’s throw her back in”, which they did – head first, with her hands behind her back. She landed on the floor and has now got severe bruising on her legs (which we have photos of) and very painful wrists (which we actually thought might be broken).

At the same time, I was punched full in the face by one of the policemen. I was on the floor and absolutely no threat, but he still punched me. I was pulled up and shoved towards the crowd as a group of policemen descended on me, several of them smashing me in the head repeatedly with the sides of their shields. The whole time I had my hands in the air and did not fight back at all, but that didn’t stop them. Luckily someone saw what was happening and managed to pull me free from the group of policemen just before they completely surrounded me and cut me off from everyone else. It frightens me to think what they might have done had I not been pulled free. My nose and the side of my head are still very painful, but I was lucky given the damage that they could have caused from hitting me in the head.

Immediately after it happened we saw that the girl we had been sat next to had also been injured and was going into shock. We tried to get her medical attention, but none of us were offered any assistance at all by the police.

Once we had calmed down and made sure everyone was alright, we went to the other end of the camp to try and get out because my girlfriend needed to get home and take medication that she requires. We spoke to a police medic to explain the situation, detailing the medication and why it was needed, but were told that they were under specific orders not to let anyone out even for medication. We continued to try and get the medic’s attention to explain the urgency of the situation, but he ignored us. By now things were getting very tense between the police and the crowd and my girlfriend got very panicky, falling to the ground. Only at this point did the police finally let us through the line to seek medical attention (this was about 11.30pm).

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We’re all teenagers again

Cute story from the Obama visit: a few Foreign Office staffers picked up that Obama and Brown were going to do their joint press conference on Wednesday in the FCO’s (vast) Locarno Room rather than the smaller room usually used for press conferences at Number 10.  So, obviously, they decide to loiter around the grand staircase to catch a glimpse of the great man as he passes.

Well, the security staff soon cotton on to their little game and usher them away.  A game of cat and mouse proceeds for a few minutes until, in an example of the kind of lateral thinking one looks for from a 21st century ministry of foreign affairs, they hit on the idea of “having a meeting” in a room that just happens to be strategically placed on the way to the Locarno suite.

A long while later, David Miliband passes with Hillary Clinton, who gives them a nice smile and a friendly wave, and this is thought to be pretty cool. 

A further wait ensues. 

Then, at last, Gordon and Barack stride past.

Squeals of delight are stifled. 

And then Obama glances back… catches sight of them… pauses… breaks stride… turns around… and comes in to say hello, while Gordon chuckles indulgently in the corridor. 

Bastards.  Bastards!

(I, on the other hand, spent 15 minutes amidst the crowd of tourists loitering outside the gates to Downing Street later that day, hoping in equal measure to (a) see the Motorcade sweep in, and (b) avoid being caught behaving in this embarrassingly starstruck way by anyone I know. First the motorcade drops the President off in Horseguards Parade, on the other side of the block. And then, two minutes later, a Downing Street foreign policy adviser I know walks past… catches sight of me… pauses… breaks stride… turns around… and asks solicitously: “are you protesting?” Bastard. Bastard!)

After the summit: what happens now?

I’ve already done a post with some quick reactions to the specifics of the communique, but before I pass out with fatigue, a final reflection on the day.

As summits go, today was a big success, particularly for Gordon Brown.  If you thought Obama was warm about Brown’s leadership yesterday, that was nothing compared to some of the language he used in his press conference at the end of the summit – where, incidentally, he charmed the assembled press to the extent that they couldn’t help applauding at the end. ‘Things you seldom see’, as they say.

But at the same time, today was always – of necessity – going to be about fighting the immediate crisis, and trying to prime some kind of immediate-term economic recovery. 

What remains so far unaddressed in leaders’ in-trays is a set of longer-term crises – and the need for longer-term recovery – on at least four key underlying issues: climate change; global economic imbalances; the issue of reserve currencies; and the need to head off another oil and food price spike, which could well get underway before the economic downturn is over.

All four of these issues raise big questions about changing the way the global economy works, and the need to ‘manage globalisation’ to make it more resilient, sustainable and equitable. All also involve big questions about power relations between the developed economies, emerging economies and low income economies.  And most fundamentally of all, they’re inextricably interrelated with one another.

At the moment, as just about every commission, task-force or high level panel on international reform in recent years has noted, the international system deals with these kinds of issues in a particularly fragmented, ‘stove-piped’, silo-riven fashion. 

That’s one reason why more and more of the hardest global issues get escalated to heads’ level, in bodies like the G8 or the G20.  But as the track record of the G8 over the last decade demonstrates, heads’ level bodies don’t obviously have the capacity to cope with them.  Initiatives and carefully crafted communique language all too often trump far-reaching, genuinely comprehensive action; it’s the old problem of the urgent crowding out the essential.  That was the case before the credit crunch – and it’s doubly so now.

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Obama the summit veteran

This post from Evening Standard political editor Paul Waugh is a must-read:

Much ink will be spilled tonight and tomorrow about Gordon Brown personally securing various victories in the G20 London summit.

But here’s a fascinating clue to the real power broker. Conducting himself assuredly as if he were a summit veteran rather than a first-timer, Barack Obama appears to have been the crucial player in securing a form of words on the thorny issue of tax havens.

American sources have now revealed that it was the US President who stepped in to knock heads together (in the nicest possible way) to get Sarko and China’s President Hu to come to an agreement.

In the final plenary session with just minutes to go before a deal had to be signed, Sarkozy and Hu were having a heated disagreement about tax havens. France wants urgent action, while China fears a crackdown would hurt banking centers in Macao, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

As they went through a revised draft, the exchange between Sarkozy and Hu got so heated that it was threatening the unity of the G-20 leaders’ meeting.

Sarkozy specifically was pushing for a list from the OECD to be included in the G20 Leaders’ Statement. China, which is not a party to the OECD, opposed any such list being included in the final Leaders’ Statement.

But Mr. Obama stepped between the two men, urging them to try to find consensus, and giving them a “pep talk” about the importance of working together.

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Green stimulus – fine words, little action

I have long thought that we’ll live to regret our failure to use the current crisis to nudge the global economy onto a greener trajectory. A WWF/E3G report, published today, heightens this fear.

By weighting elements of national stimulus packages, it offers a quick and dirty estimate of how green each one is. The answer is ‘not very’ with the UK’s risible effort one of the worst offenders.

The share of ‘climate friendly’ stimulus is small, researcher find, and it’s more than offset by investment in roads (including one to Manchester airport) and fossil fuel R&D (yes – read that and weep).

You can quibble with the analysis. Investment in nuclear is not included on the green side of the ledger – which seems unfair on the French, who have low per capita emissions relative to GDP and expect additional nuclear investment to push them lower. But the scoring is transparent and easy for others to replicate with different weightings.

And there’s a much bigger point: why is it up to a couple of NGOs to do this work? By now, the G20 should have set up standardised and sophisticated systems for monitoring the net carbon impact of each country’s stimulus package.

That they haven’t shows how confused and fragmented our thinking remains about the interlocking crises the world faces.

Disclosure: I recently agreed to act as an adviser to E3G in the run up to Copenhagen, but have had no involvement in any aspect of this report.

A bridgehead for bloggers

Today’s summit marks the first time that bloggers have been included as fully accredited members of the press at a heads’ level summit meeting – in their own right, that is, rather than because they persuaded a newspaper to accredit them (which remains the route that a lot of NGO campaigners have to follow).

Another first from today: during the Chairman’s press conference, Gordon Brown called on one of the G20 Voice bloggers, Richard Murphy, to ask one of the questions: the first time a blogger has ever asked a question at a heads’ level summit press conference.  (Newsnight have already booked him for an interview for tonight.)

The organisers of G20 Voice are ebullient, and they should be. As Tom Watson (who took the day off from being a minister of state at the Cabinet Office in order to sit here and blog with us) told me earlier, this is the result of a small group of quietly determined people focusing very hard in the run-up to the summit on the objective of establishing the blogosphere’s right to representation at such events.  It looks a lot like they’ve pulled it off.  Hats off to them.

Outcomes: a first cut

So: the outcome.  Here’s the communique – and three thoughts from me.

First, the biggest winner from today is the IMF. This is an organisation which looked like it might go bust just a couple of months ago; now, its funds have been trebled to $750bn, much higher than the $500bn that David Miliband was touting last week.

But the IMF’s win isn’t just financial; it’s existential.  At the beginning of last year, it was set to lose a sixth of its staff.  People were openly wondering what is was for.  And now?  The G20 has just issued a clear, ringing, and very public, declaration of its continuing centrality to global governance.

Here’s my hesitation, though.  If the declaration of faith in the IMF is clear, the path towards reforming it is much less so.  The communique calls on the IMF to complete the next review of quota votes by 2011, but says nothing about the principles that should underpin this review. It includes the traditional call for “greater voice and representation for poor countries”, but doesn’t get into specifics.  As Oxfam have put it, the IMF’s back, it’s big and it’s bad.  Whether it’s reformed is another question.

Second, the movement on tax havens is actually pretty significant.  The communique says that “the era of banking secrecy is over”, and actually, it might be right.  We’re told to expect a list of tax havens, broken down into ‘white’, ‘grey’ and ‘black’ – and Stephen Timms, a junior UK Treasury minister, briefed this morning that he expects sanctions against countries that don’t sign up to the required disclosure standards.

For development advocates, tax havens have long been a massive bugbear.  Back when I was working a DFID at the time of its 3rd White Paper in 2006, tax havens were already starting to be recognised as one of the most critical policy coherence issues in development – but it was clear there was no chance of getting reform of them onto the global agenda.  A lot can change in three years…

Third, a big disappointment: climate change.  I blogged earlier that not much was expected on this, and so it has proved. On green new deals, in particular, the lack of numbers is a very major omission.