I cannot remember a time when any British Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer put issues of world poverty at the top of the agenda for discussions by leaders of global superpowers. After much graft and more than a little arm-twisting, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown got the G8 leaders in July to talk about the poor, about AIDS, about trade rules and about global warming. The results weren’t all we’d hoped for, but the right things were talked about.
I never thought I’d write it, but I’m proud of our PM and Chancellor. Cynics say politicians are interested only in one thing: staying in power. Too often they’d be right. But where were the votes in this? The majority of the electorate weren’t pushing him to make poverty the priority topic for world leaders. Nor was it Bob Geldof or the MAKE POVERTY HISTORY campaign which made it happen, because Tony Blair was talking about action for Africa years ago.
The G8 has a long way to go yet if the plight of billions of people is to change significantly. To eradicate extreme poverty some $10 billion per annum of debt cancellation is needed; the July G8 deal will provide less than $1 billion this year. That equals only one dollar per person in deeply indebted countries. Small steps need to become large strides. Fine words don’t fill empty stomachs. But something new happened at Gleneagles, and debt relief and world poverty won’t go away as global priority subjects.
About a year ago I watched a TV documentary. It looked at the causes our Prime Minister had championed, and studied his speeches from the beginning of “New Labour.” The problem with Tony Blair, it concluded, is that he’s a “conviction politician.” He believes things must change because it’s right that they change, and he’ll take action whether or not he gets support. That’s the problem with the Prime Minister? And the alternative is…? May God grant us more conviction politicians, people with beliefs, a sense of right and especially a passionate concern for those in the world without power, without money, without influence.
I belong to no political party. But, because of what it is meaning for the poor of the world, I’m grateful for Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and others like them from this and other countries. No votes in it. No escape from deeply entrenched problems. No quick return on policies. But following their convictions because that’s the right thing to do.
Alistair Brown is general director of BMS World Mission in Didcot, England.