Simon Heffer

A pointless, grotesque and quite repulsive act of grandstanding

A pointless, grotesque and quite repulsive act of grandstanding

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The agenda for the G8 is now clear: economic revival through better trading conditions; the elimination of corruption; the humbling of dictators; possibly even regime change. Yes, most of the G8’s member nations are in an almighty mess, and until they show the will to sort themselves out, you can forget their doing anything useful for the rest of humanity.

It is difficult, on the occasion of this utterly pointless, grotesquely expensive and quite repulsive act of grandstanding, to know for whom to feel more contempt: the Blairs, the Chiracs, the Schröders and the Berlusconis, or the silly little anti-capitalist plonkers parading themselves through Edinburgh rejoicing that they can chuck bricks through windows again. The former, aware of what the public wants to hear, have made all the right noises about aid to Africa. They won’t go beyond rhetoric, partly because of the overwhelming weight of their self-interest and partly because of African despots’ disgusting reluctance to pursue policies that will end famine. The latter, never having progressed beyond Karl Marx for Dummies, still think capitalism is the enemy of progress, whereas we all know it is the enemy of poverty. Looking at some of the unwashed, benefit-scrounging morons being carted off by the police during the anarchists’ beano in Edinburgh, one suspected that if the emaciated, fly-blown, Aids-ridden peasantry of Africa didn’t exist, these people would just be dying to invent them.

It is, though, the most fundamental mark of their naivety that they should expect any change out of the bunch of crooks, charlatans, self-obsessives and twerps gathering in Gleneagles this week. I exempt President Bush from such criticism, since he showed exactly the right spirit in advance of the meeting. He promised to double debt relief provided the brutes who control much of Africa stop sticking their bloodstained hands in the till; and he has ruled out any environmental measures, quite sensibly, because they would torpedo his superpower’s economy. He only has to note the dire state of most of his fellow summiteers this week to see what would happen if the American economy started to impersonate that of the eurozone, Russia or Japan. Mr Bush runs the most successful nation on the planet, and by the exercise of naked self-interest will continue to do so. No wonder the likes of Chirac and Schröder hate him so much.

Meanwhile, these are troubled times for almost all of his colleagues. Mr Berlusconi keeps tugging the handle on the fruit machine that passes for the Italian economy, but it persistently refuses to register three oranges. For all the travails of France and Germany, the plight of Italy, with its dwindling population, struggling growth, culture of corruption and uncompetitiveness is the one that should command most attention. If the euro is imperilled, it will be by Italy’s impending economic failure. Two coalition ministers from the Northern League have called for the lira to be reinstated, calls that Italy’s foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini, rebutted with only mild credibility. With Mr Berlusconi facing elections next spring, this may well be his last G8.

The same is probably true of Mr Schröder, who has engineered an election this autumn, a year early because of the untenability of his administration. The cover of Stern magazine recently showed the German eagle choking on a euro coin in its gullet, flagging a story claiming that German political and business leaders were thinking the unthinkable and discussing whether the euro could survive. The recognition in Germany that the two main factors that would have shored up the euro — political integration and discipline ensured by an unbreached stability pact — are now wholly absent has fed this gloom; but not so much as have the five million unemployed, a level not seen since the glory days of the Weimar republic. About 56 per cent of Germans, when polled, say they want the mark back.

And then there is France, the root of all Europe’s problems. Mr Chirac, like his predecessor, has manipulated Germany’s guilt about two world wars to bind the putative powerhouse of Europe into an economic suicide pact with its weaker neighbour. France’s bloated, high-tax, high-spend ‘social model’ has killed growth and driven up the deficit. The new government of the vulpine Dominique de Villepin is trying interventionist means to get France’s three million unemployed back to work. It looks and smells like Britain under Heath and Wilson, and it won’t work for France any more than it did for them. France’s commitment to the CAP may seem an act of self-interest of a Bush-like variety. Mr Bush’s self-interest, however, is self-financed; France’s isn’t. The average African, if he knew anything about it, would be horrified by the sight of exceedingly rich countries donating huge amounts of cash to the land of Dom Perignon, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and the Pl