The G-20 summit has finally begun. For the security forces in London, it can hardly end soon enough. Protests on Wednesday resulted in 88 arrests, the trashing of a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland by activists, and the death by heart attack of a man on his way home from work. The protesters were almost as diverse as the interests represented at the summit itself, ranging from the Stop the War Coalition, to the British Muslim Initiative, to Ogaden separatists protesting the participation of the Ethiopian Prime Minister in the summit.
The overriding hate object of the protesters, of course, was the banks, with the entire system of capitalism at its back. As one protester put it:
“Unemployment is hitting young people hardest, and we don’t see why young people should be paying for the losses of the banks,” said Becci Heagney, 21, a student at the University of Leicester, in central England.
Fortunately, Ms. Heagney, as a student, is not unemployed, and her studies – supported by the taxpayer, and thus by the fruits of the capitalist system – were not sufficiently demanding to prevent her from taking a day off to come down to protest. We just wish she’d be as vocal about the bill for Gordon Brown’s stimulus package that she’ll be paying for the rest of her life, or the entitlements burden that her generation will shortly be forced to carry.
But at least one part of the world has been restored to normalcy: Germany and France are back on the same team. After a week in which it looked like Germany was standing closer to the US than to its traditional European partner and punching-bag, President Sarkozy’s grandstanding in favor of global economic governance has reminded the Germans where their sympathies really lie. At a Franco-German press conference on Wednesday, Sarkozy summed it up: “France and Germany will speak with a single voice.”
By now, of course, most of the actual speaking has been done. The summit is far too short to produce anything on its own: all the heavy lifting will have been done in advance and in private. So far, President Obama’s main contribution to the public side of the summit has been to give the Queen an iPod – if you have a better idea, submit it here – as his official gift. The iPod, it has now been confirmed, did not simply contain photos of the Queen’s 2007 visit to the US: it was also filled with selections of Obama’s greatest speeches and his favorite photos of himself.
Sure, the Queen gives a framed photo of herself and Prince Phillip to all official guests. But she’s royalty, and the ceremonial Head of State. It would be nice if, for once, our President could give our British allies a gift that wasn’t partly about himself. Maybe the Queen can console herself by listening to the show tunes on the iPod: anyone for Ethel Merman’s rendition of “Everything’s Coming up Roses” as a summit theme?