Stuart Hodkinson. At 8.30am this morning, three protesters hung a banner off a construction site crane near Edinburgh's North Bridge demanding 'No More Brownwash' in response to the successful co-optation of the aims and message of Make Poverty History by Gordon Brown and the UK government. The development campaigners from Brighton World Development Movement (WDM) wanted to get out a message from grassroots activists that New Labour is not a defender of the poor and has no intention of delivering the Make Poverty History agenda. The activists came down at 6.15pm and were immediately arrested.
Before her arrest, one of the 'North Bridge three', Leila Deen, told Red Pepper: “We came to Edinburgh to protest against government and G8 policy in forcing through privatisation and liberalisation in Africa and other countries across the Global South. Sadly, this was not the message from either Live 8 or Make Poverty History on 2 July. We find it disgusting and alarming that Blair and Brown are succeeding in co-opting this movement for social justice by paying lip service to the coalition's slogan while not signing up to a single one of the campaign's modest demands. From now on, NGOs inside Make Poverty History need to stand firm and say 'No More Brownwash'”.
Although the national WDM body is a member of MPH and has decided to keep its mouth publicly shut about the concerns it has with the way in which MPH has been undermined by the Oxfam-New Labour-celebrity alliance as reported in July's Red Pepper, it expressed its full support for the actions of the local Brighton campaigners. One WDM officer told Red Pepper: “We found Live 8 particularly problematic because it completely hijacked coverage of the Make Poverty History march and demands in Edinburgh”.
A team of WDM officers were on hand underneath the crane to hand out press releases and negotiate with both Miller, the PFI construction company building new council offices on the site near to Edinburgh train station, and British transport police. Most of the site's contracted workforce expressed support for the protesters and insisted on hanging their own 'Make Poverty History' banner from another crane. Also on site was Guardian journalist George Monbiot, who came to express his solidarity with the protesters and do interviews with the media. In an interesting twist, Miller refused to shut down the construction site for the day.
One WDM spokesperson told Red Pepper: “We think it's unfortunate that Miller is putting profit before health and safety”. The company is currently building new offices for Edinburgh Council as part of the controversial Private Finance Initiative. According to one worker, who wished to remain anonymous, the building work is already “over budget and behind schedule”. Ironically, as African speakers pointed out today at the launch of the Alternative Africa Commission, public-private partnerships are one the main solutions being proposed for African development by Blair's Commission for Africa in return for increased aid and debt relief.