Weak political and media responses in the face of very serious global problems


Some thoughts on global and historical perspectives all too often overlooked in mainstream news reporting – and also in UK policy making.

I awoke from my slumber to find Defra minister George Eustice MP being cross examined by Andrew Neil over the latest migration crisis. (See http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b060kn9g/daily-politics-24062015 – the first item).

I found the minister’s response around 5 minutes in to be laughable.

“We’ve got HMS Bulwark and three Merlin helicopters”

Yeah…like that’s going to solve the problem.

The way I was trained in the civil service with policy making was to try and go to the root of the problem by continually asking: ‘Why?’ and ‘Then what happens?’

For example, if you’ve got thousands of people risking their lives to make the crossing from the shores of North Africa, the question of ‘Why?’ follows, just as for those that (understandably) say we should increase the number of rescue ships, the question that follows is: ‘Then what happens?”

“How do you deal with this arc of instability from the north-western shores of Africa to the Middle East to the Ukraine, through to increased military tensions in the eastern Baltic?”

Personally I don’t think we have the institutions with the capacity & competency to deal with this. I believe part of the reason has been the hollowing out of state institutions and their ability to deal with problems they face. This ranges from local councils dealing with the poor state of roads, to the often reported shortage of equipment and personnel UK armed forces faced given the tasks Tony Blair and Gordon Brown charged them with undertaking. This also covers international issues including the continued leadership vacuum in Europe in the face of some of the biggest crises the EU has faced.

The large-scale movement of people globally.

Why are people moving? I found this article about the lack of media attention given to people and governments in Africa to be interesting. In The Guardian this article mentions the impact of the collapse of Libya as being a factor. Did the presence of ‘strong national leaders’ (AKA dictators) mean that it was easier for wealthier countries to ignore pressures that were building up in those countries? Why did those pressures build up in the first place? Why are so many people moving from their homes to make perilous journeys by land and sea?

Does data on the flow of wealth help explain?

One of the first things I stumbled across when I went to university to study economics in the later 1990s was the debt crisis in developing countries. I remember reading some of the figures thrown around about the level of debt owed by developing countries to the International Monetary Fund & the World Bank – £100billion was one figure thrown around at the time. I remember how sobering that felt at the time…then fast forward to 2008 finding out that the UK banks had been bailed out by over ten times that amount. Ever since that point my view of mainstream finance and economic policy has been very dim indeed. Can’t drop the debt? Can’t fund the housing program needed but can bail out Fred Goodwin and friends? What’s the point…

And who remembers Live8 in 2005 with all of those celebrities desperate to be on stage or in the VIP pit? Tony Blair was there telling us how important it was that the G8 summit made a difference. (Has it? (*Looks around*))

Net flows of wealth from poorer countries to richer countries, and richer countries to tax havens. 

There are numerous articles about the net flow of wealth from poorer countries to richer countries (eg here and here – 2010 figure approx $557bn) and ultimately into offshore tax havens (eg here). It doesn’t surprise me that in an era of neo-liberal governments, people are following the wealth. The economic theory says that to make markets more free, you enact policies that free up the movement of capital, of knowledge…and of people. Then sit back and watch supposedly pro-free market politicians and their newspaper cheerleaders tie themselves up in knots over immigration.

“So…how do you deal with it?”

Funnily enough, Ed Miliband was onto something with his concept of ‘predistribution’. But having picked a rubbish word to describe it and having been subsequently lampooned over it, it died a quick death. But the point was that more of the people that made the goods or carried out the services  got a greater amount of the price received so that they would not need to rely on things like tax credits or other state support – and would be able to pay taxes too. Furthermore, they would more likely to be able to work fewer hours and have time to do other things with their lives – perhaps even live healthier, happier lives.

Now, extend this concept globally and apply basic workers rights worldwide. What would happen if people had:

  • rights to paid holiday, weekends, maximum working weeks,
  • minimum wages that reflected a living wage/realistic cost of living in decent accommodation with access to public services (not just health & education, but public transport & more)
  • the right to working conditions that meant death & injury were not regular occurrences

Yes – costs of cheap goods would go up. But why should we have access to cheap goods at the expense of the health and livelihoods of our fellow human beings who happen to be in a worse situation than us? I discussed this here.

What would the situation be like if wealth flows between poorer countries and richer countries were more balanced? By ‘poorer’ countries I’m talking about people and countries being impoverished by such unfair economic systems. This isn’t about who works harder or smarter. It’s about social and economic justice. What would it look like if the people that made the goods or delivered the services got more for their work than the employer or shareholding firm with their headquarters artificially registered in a tax haven?

Colonialism and after

The above was the title of the first module that I studied at university – probably the only one in my time at university that really got me thinking. (Yes – I still have a ****big chip**** that gets bigger every time they phone me up for money I don’t have. No! Feck off!)

What’s going on in Iraq and Syria is soul-destroying. The most appalling violence being inflicted on civilians as a weapon of war, the destruction of antiquities…all in the shadow of Tony Blair & George Bush’s misadventures in the Middle East. What I don’t understand is why there is no UN mission to deal with this – one not led or driven by NATO members. I don’t understand why there is no global attempt to bring about reconciliation between Iran and the Gulf states.

Forgetting the historical picture

I had a conversation with a longtime family friend who died recently, who lived and worked in East Africa and in Iran during the 1950s-1970s. She told me she could not believe how the UK & US went into Iraq with no postwar plan – not least one that recognised and planned for the complexities of the mixes of groups, cultures & religions there. The same struck me about what happened in the Ukraine which has far deeper and more complex roots than the mainstream media reported. (This example, when viewed in the context of the Second World War was a piece of analysis I thought was missing in the news reports of the time).

International policy paralysis?

Whether it’s migration in the Mediterranean, ongoing war & horrific violence in the Middle East to sabre-rattling on the EU’s eastern borders, the one thing that strikes me is that no one seems to be in control of the EU’s response. Furthermore, it’s not clear how the UK is playing a constructive part & a positive impact in solving the problems.

Given how interconnected the world is, I can’t see how retreating from international institutions EU-exit style is going to help things. With each of the three cases I’ve touched upon – and I’ve not even mentioned climate change yet, I don’t see any solution in sight. I also don’t see any individuals or groups of individuals in mainstream politics as having what it takes to solve them either.

More questions than answers

In the 2015 election campaign we never had the in-depth debates and discussions of the type they had in Scotland’s independence referendum. Other than UKIP or no-UKIP we didn’t get the chance to thrash out the UK’s future place in the world, the EU or the sort of EU within which we’d be comfortable in.

I don’t know what the answers or solutions to those mega problems are. But from my TV-shaped window into the world, the way the mainstream media is presenting, analysing & contextualising the issues doesn’t seem to be helping.

“Why does the media matter?”

Because media influences policy. If broadcast media can get to grips with the complex roots, bring them to the surface where they can be properly analysed, maybe we might get some better policy-making. This is why projects such as The Women’s Room are ever so important – bringing in new, more diverse voices with a greater range of experiences and expertise to bear.


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