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Sloganeering for change

August 30, 2009

Gordon Brown’s biggest failing is in tackling child poverty. I say this, because, unlike, say, emissions cuts, slashing child poverty is something Brown is passionate about – something he has spent the past decade working with purpose to achieve. And yet, he has failed. The UK has more children living in poverty than almost any other developed nation. Proportionately, the number of children living in poverty has doubled in the past generation – around 3 million children, currently.

Despite being a personal project of the prime minister (previously head of the economy), and so being an issue that has had the full benefit of the central and local government behind it, things have only got worse since 1999. You can see why Britons might think that an issue as important to the future of the planet’s humanity as cutting emissions should not be left to Gordon and Co.

With the gap between rich and poor wider than ever, how can ‘activists’, most of whom derive from the great bloat of middle classes, bring about the enormous changes needed to reduce our climate impact – changes that must apply across the social scale?

Climate Camp is one manifestation of this activism, but as I have already said here, it doesn’t strike me as particularly successful at venturing beyond its cosy enclave of converts. An article in today’s Observer newspaper nicely sums up some of the problems with Climate Camp and its ilk.

In the olden days, protests had a specific and agreed cause, which could be written on a banner, marched for or against and everyone knew where they stood. Think: poll tax riots, or mine-closures. But then, in 2003, everything changed with the anti-capitalist and anti-globalization protests. They were successful in that the protests brought sympathy from a huge sector of society from celebs and the trendies to environmentally-aware right-on students to the poor. But what did they achieve? And, importantly, what did they want to achieve? There was no real consensus on what people were protesting about or for, except a vague notion that it was against big corporate baddies, like McDonalds.

Climate Camp is similarly inclusive of many divergent causes and as a result, has a similar watered-down vagueness that is difficult for anyone to care strongly about, but easy for a broad range people to find something in to be supportive of. So, in other words, most people support the protest in the same way as they might support the idea of fair trade, for example. But just as the 2003 protests didn’t bring about laws requiring all imported goods to be ‘fairly traded’, so Climate Camp will be similarly ineffectual.

I would argue that the climate cause is far too important to leave to the crowd pleasers. Activists need to define a proper old-fashioned cause, such as: carbon capture and storage for every power station in Britain by 2012, and direct the protest at a specific target, such as Ed Miliband (and Brown). Yes, it may lose some of the let’s-learn-how-to-compost crowd, but it’s something that I would march on Whitehall for.

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