Thursday, November 12, 2009

Make Pontificating History

Am I the only one to be annoyed by pointless and deceitful campaign slogans? Let's take just a few:

  • Make Poverty History.
  • Every Child Matters.
  • Millenium Development Goals.
  • Abolish Youth Unemployment.

All of these have good intentions, but all seem disconnected from reality.

Make Poverty History

Jesus himself said "The poor will always be with us". Now I am not making a case for abandoning the poor, but in reality throwing money at countries or organisations which have shown themselves quite incapable of handling it isn't going to help anyone, least of all the poor. The home page of MPH is full of loaded political terms and devoid of ideas that will solve poverty long term. In fact, some of the actions suggested are little more than a left-wing rant ("vulture funds" "climate debt"). The only way to have any chance of making poverty history is to build democratic and commercial systems where the rule of law drives government. Throwing funds at dysfunctional states will only serve to impoverish ourselves and encourage and enrich the corrupt.

Every Child Matters.
Of course every child matters. This programme seems to be mainly to do with "joined up government". Whenever I hear the words "joined up government" I know what it means: people doing only what's in the official procedure instead of using their God-given brains. Every Child Matters so children can't paddle in water. Every Child Matters so teachers can't put sunscreen on children in their care. Every Child Matters so don't let them learn about losing; rather let them learn that if they lose, then it must be somebody's fault.

If every child does matter, why don't we do more to teach children about the world as it is, full of opportunity but also subject to disappointment? If every child matters, why don't we do a better job of educating our children so they are better able to cope with life and succeed?

Millenium Development Goals

Among these are the goal to reduce maternal deaths by 75% by 2015. This is surely a worthy goal. But we need to understand that many or most of those deaths come about because of society and culture in poor countries. These issues include women having more children (and each pregnancy is a health risk), poor care before during and after birth, sexual violence and poor condom use. All of these will take a considerable time to fix: setting a goal of 2015 is unrealistic.

Abolish Youth Unemployment

The obvious question is: How? I don't know any country in the world where there is zero unemployment. Now of course, we could abolish youth unemployment by introducing some kind of national service but I suspect not too many people would find that acceptable (but who knows)?


The common problem with all of these is that they set out an aspiration that is unrealistic. When the goal is missed, as was bound to happen, this is often followed by a tirade against right wing politicians or capitalism or both which almost by definition are uncaring and therefore must be to blame.

And this is the biggest pity of all, because these aspirations are often worthy goals. If we could reject the rhetoric and set realistic goals we would achieve a great deal more for those who desperately need our help.

These matters are too important to fall prey to petty politics.


Anonymous said...

Good, common sense points, and very well stated.

Anonymous said...

btw, *great* title for your post.

John Madeley said...

Dear Sean
You say that Jesus said the poor you always have with you.

But Jesus did not add - and that's the way it should be. Not all all!

I answer this in full in my new book Beyond Reach? The book is an account of the 2005 Make Poverty History campaign in the UK, told in a novel way.

I am a journalist and author, and former Lay member of the Church of England General Synod, and covered most of the national Make Poverty History events in 2005, including the G8 summit in Scotland. I was also involved in local campaigning.

“Beyond Reach?” employs a fact-cum-fiction plot to tell a witty story of how a feisty young married woman inspires a church minister to join the campaign. The result is an explosive mix that takes them into a world that neither bargained for. Their relationship energises them for the campaign, leading them to an exposé of government duplicity, of how the claims made about more aid and debt relief were far from all they seemed.

The debt relief came with strings attached and there was not much of it - four years later, only about 20 per cent of developing country debt has been wiped out - and the aid increase included money for debt relief. There was huge double counting, and the government was slow to act on climate change which is reinforcing poverty.

This is also a story about forbidden love and the meaning of life. The relationship of the book’s two main characters is set against a background of faithfulness, commitment, weakness and opportunity.

I draw on almost 50 years experience of campaigning on development issues to pack the book full of campaigning ideas.

Royalties from the book go to agencies working to eradicate poverty.

“Beyond Reach?” is published by Longstone Books, 239 pages, price £9.99. ISBN: 978-0-9554373-7-3.

I am the author of nine factual books on development issues, including the best-selling “Hungry for Trade - How the poor pay for free trade”. and “100 Ways to Make Poverty History” (Illustrated by Dave Walker).

The book is available direct from me, or from all good bookshops.

John Madeley, 19 Woodford Close, Caversham, Reading RG4 7HN, UK
Tel : 01189 476063
Mob: 0789 1882321

‘A revealing story about a scandal of our time, witty, sharp - and above all urgent’ - Rosie Boycott

Beyond Reach? is a wonderful tribute to all those ordinary people who take action against the scandal of global poverty. For those of us who took part in the Make Poverty History campaign, it's also great to revisit the experience of that year’ - John Hilary

‘In this amusing novel, John Madeley links modern ethics and politics with the age-old issues of relationships and the meaning of life. All this, with serious intent, too’ - Tim Lang

‘In the tradition of Saturday, this outstanding novel weaves together the world of public events with the private world of individual lives’ - Carl Rayer

‘Be warned, this book could change your life’ - Ann Pettifor

‘A gripping and inspiring story of forbidden love and the struggle for justice. In a hundred years people will look back on our culture of greed and realise books like this helped change the world’ - David Rhodes 

Sean Haffey said...

Well John, leaving aside the book publicity, the question remains of how best to address the problem of poverty. I lived for quite some time in Africa and saw good numbers of schemes that were good for headlines. Few were of lasting good for the poor.

And if you've answered this problem "in full", then you're wasted as an author!

Anonymous said...

Don't trust John - he is a troubled individual....