NGOs need to channel citizens’ frustration

The new director of the World Development Movement, Nick Dearden, has no illusions about the scale of the challenges that face the world today: “We have a financial system that is out of control, a global economy that fails to meet the needs of the many and a world sliding towards climate catastrophe,” he warns.

Pic copyright: Genevieve Stevenson
Nick Dearden (Pic copyright: Genevieve Stevenson)

Old notions of charity or aid are not going to resolve these issues, either. “Campaign groups must find ever better ways of bringing people together to challenge the financial takeover of every aspect of our world. We shouldn’t inspire pity for those around the world, but anger at the injustice people are suffering, and hope in the strength of the alternatives that so many are building,” he adds.

Speaking to ARC2020 last week, Dearden sees no sign of any change in direction coming from the EU for now. At the moment, it is a political institution that does as it pleases. “The case for accountability in the EU is massive – the main driver being that the Commission and the European Central Bank have dictated a disastrous, totally undemocratic economic policy to Southern Europe for the past three years.

“The skepticism about EU institutions by EU citizens has never been greater. The challenge for us is to use this anger to build an understanding of the impact that too many EU institutions have had on the rest of the world for decades. We need to build understanding of what these institutions are – the ECB, the EBRD, the EIB – and whose interests they serve.”

The way to change things, Dearden explains, is through campaigning, organising protests and building a movement. As former head of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, he ran a successful campaign against ‘vulture funds’, resulting in a new law being passed in 2010. He developed global work on ‘illegitimate debt’ including leading a campaign to get Britain to audit its Third World debt portfolio and transform the export credit system.

A similarly robust approach is needed in the European Union, where institutional inertia sometimes verges on the ludicrous: “A couple of years ago I attended an EU development seminar which featured the unedifying spectacle of an EU Commissioner lecturing African politicians on the importance of democracy. You couldn’t make it up. I said then, the EU needs to get its own house in order before lecturing the rest of the world: subsequent events have proved how necessary reform is.” Earlier this year, ARC2020 gave an example of this kind of patronage.

Driven by a series of embarrassing political own-goals in recent years, the UK government is trying to pass legislation that would silence democratic advocacy but leave corporate lobbyists with a free hand. The current lobbying bill would outlaw the Trades Union Congress annual conference during an election year, for instance.

Dearden describes it as: “…a cynical attempt to silence protest under the pretence of tackling corporate lobbying. Not content with presenting a bill purportedly aimed at ‘controlling corporate lobbying’ which actually does nothing at all to address the corporate capture of our political system, the government’s bill actually reinforces that corporate capture by attacking those that stand up against it.”

The degree of complacency and incompetence shown by UK policymakers may yet sink the current attempt to gag campaigns, Dearden believes. “It has been handled in such a poor way that the breadth of opposition to this bill should mean it is stopped in its tracks.”

Peter Crosskey
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Peter Crosskey is based in the UK.