Global interdependence must change the way politics works

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Today’s the day.  In terms of the G20, may it’s worth me repeating what I said in The Observer:

The G20 will end with smiling leaders and a grandly worded statement but the level of expectation and scrutiny are too high for a lack of substance to go undetected. The agreement of new global regulatory architecture, the strengthening and refinancing of the IMF and a commitment to help the most vulnerable countries are important goals which go well beyond the generally bland outcomes of such summits.

But people are suffering now and they want to see action now. The two hard tests, therefore, are globally coordinated action in the short term to get the economy moving again, and a genuine and binding commitment to resist the siren call of protectionism.

If the G20 is seen to have failed it could undermine the national case for global solidarity and engagement with potentially calamitous political consequences. If it succeeds it could give people around the world the one thing they most need right now – a reason to believe in better times ahead.      

In all the comment on the G20 I was struck by a point made by Jeffrey Sachs, the development economist (and recent RSA speaker). He said, on this morning’s Today programme, that the governance of globalisation could not take place simply through periodic summits and communiqués. Instead, those who lead, and those who advise them need to ‘intermingle’ much more continuously. I am sure this is right. It represents a third way between the traditional pursuit of national interests in foreign relations and the limited effectiveness of multinational institutions, in particular the UN. Looking at the progress that seems to have been made between the US and Russia on reducing nuclear warhead stockpiles we can see what can happen when national heads have the opportunity and the incentive to show they can be global leaders.         

If global governance and responsibility is to catch up with globalisation of trade, finance, organised crime, and population movement we need a new national elite made up of people who see their role in making the world work as on a par with their national responsibilities. As I know from my own time in Downing Street, when the summit has passed, the tendency is for international issues to drop off the agenda completely and to become again the specialist concern of a small group of advisors until there is another summit or international emergency. When I used to be involved in manifesto drafting, we viewed the writing of the (inevitably final) ‘Britain in the World’ chapter as a duty not an opportunity.

The G20 circus will roll out of town, but in a world of profound interdependence the security, prosperity and sustainability of the world must never be allowed to fall far down the day to day agenda of politics and government.

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