Tobin or not Tobin

I was in London for the Put People First G20 Counter-conference on Saturday. The turnout was not vast, but it was substantial and, as can sometimes happen, the experience was all the better for that. The place was buzzing with optimism of the will, as well as some judicious pessimism of the intellect.

So I very much hope that rumours of PPF's demise are premature. People in Britain need fresh alliances now more than ever. If PPF goes, as Make Poverty History did before it, the credibility of all such alliances will be seriously damaged.

I wonder whether some of its backers are quite as much afraid of success as they are of failure.

Saturday proved to be a case in point. Even as we talked, Gordon Brown was at the G20 Finance Ministers' meeting in Scotland announcing his support for some sort of global 'Tobin' tax on financial transactions. When PPF was set up, not much more than a year ago, it included this among its key demands. Any hope that it would be adopted by the British Government anytime soon would have pushed optimism of the will to its limits. Yet, so far as I can tell, the only powerful country now opposing it is the US – a sad reflection on the bad economic advice President Obama still seems to accept.

Of course it would be foolish to pretend that the alliance behind PPF was entirely responsible for making Brown's change of heart happen. But it would be just as foolish to imagine that PPF had nothing to do with it at all.

In the run-up to general elections in Britain next year, the assumption in the corporate media is that the Tories are bound to win. But, as Neal Lawson of Compass pointed out on Saturday, a 'hung' parliament remains a distinct possibility, and with it the prospect of change to Britain's creaking democratic structure.

The PPF alliance could have a vital role to play here. I fear it is precisely this prospect that frightens some of its more resourceful backers.

Rather, PPF needs to strengthen its alliance with climate-change activists and advance a platform that is much the same anyway. This is, after all, the one point in Britain's antique political calendar when everyone is supposed to be listening.

To do otherwise would be irresponsible. And to do so without providing some sort of forum for the many thousands of us who have backed PPF would be, quite simply, wrong.

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