The G7 matters to you
Cornwall, England, is more celebrated for Rick & Jill Stein’s Seafood Restaurant than for lofty international summits. Indeed, I hope they have checked the nearest runway for its capacity to handle Air Force One, President Biden’s vehicule du jour as he heads for this beautiful British holiday centre. It’s near where I began my farming career aged eight. Part of my heart is still there. Cornwall lulls the senses into thoughts of heaven and eternity, a longer view for most people than they are accustomed to. It is an ideal place to contemplate the world’s priorities.
The G7 Summit which consists of US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada, has this year invited guests. Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea, will join the deliberations, thus ratcheting up the proportion of world trade represented from 40% to well over half. It is a rare opportunity for the group to cohese and cooperate. Whether it will do so remains to be seen. More depends on its achievements than might at first appear likely.
On the key, critical subject of climate the world is speaking as one for all practical purposes. China has declared her hand as a supporter. Difficult to imagine them not being with nearly 1.5 billion mouths to feed and wealth undreamt of even ten years ago. So what is the second biggest problem on today’s planet? Human rights, without a doubt. With knowledge now universally available, the demand that ‘All Lives Matter’ grows daily, often seen in protests, riots and other manifestations of dissatisfaction to the people who would be our political masters.
Those who live in democracies tend to take Human Rights for granted. You can’t grasp freedom if you’ve got it. You can’t even see it if you haven’t. It runs equality of opportunity and the right to a living wage a very close second. To watch the transition in Hong Kong is to see the trauma of its erosion and to remember that it is a fragile and precious concept. A world divided between these particular haves and have-nots is likely to fight about it in the end. The G7 is something of a Noah’s Ark of freedom, a beacon of hope for a gift that could be lost for millennia.
The G7’s agenda will address all the big issues of the day, naturally. It will provide some of the politicians a chance to – in their opinion – shine for a fleeting moment. Its most telling outcome will be whether it ever reconvenes and, if so, whether other, like-minded countries will join permanently. If they do, G7, or what it will then become, could be the think tank for democracy. You know who your friends are when you meet up in Cornwall.
President Biden obviously thinks this is an important meeting. Presidents rarely go to Cornwall, are not often seen at meetings of relatively few countries and seldom bet so much of their presidential clout on such an outsider. Of course, the President may yet not turn up. A big disaster or threat could postpone his visit until whenever. But supposing he does arrive, what should his host country do to make him feel welcome and wanted?
First, let the President have the limelight. More is at stake than a few transient political points. The Chinese binoculars are focused on the scene – political, mostly, with just a sideways glance now and then at the shellfish. China is starting to take the concept of freedom seriously. An informed, relatively rich population will make demands that the system doesn’t always – or, perhaps, ever – wish to meet. The Jack Ma treatment works on a few, not on a mob. “What have these people got that we want?” is an oft-repeated question, in the quiet of the smoking room if not in the media.
Second, make the spiralling aspirations subordinate to the most important – the date of the next G7. Meetings with an ideological foundation can easily be undermined by petty point-scoring. Keep the tenor serious but light – freedom is not a Komodo Dragon concept, rather a Butterfly one. Friends don’t meet in Cornwall to cry but to celebrate. Let the crackers be of joy not threat. Let the event be a hymn to success, not a dirge for real or imagined loss.
Third, make membership look relevant and inviting. Don’t bribe or cajole, invite with a smile. Who knows, perhaps one day even the Big Bear might want to become a member. Stranger things have happened, and the backlash to recent tightened control is probably stronger than we think. Let the mantra “Compete when you must; cooperate when you can” be the guide to every statement. Opportunities like this come once in a century. Whatever you do, Boris, don’t squander it.
So watch the G7. It potentially means more than another political jolly. Watch every sign of cheers and tears for freedom. Human rights, our focus for the G7 meeting, don’t exist without them. The meeting is a chance to show what real freedom offers, to raise a hurrah for our version of hope with not too much glory and absolutely no guile.
Let the outward expression be of friendship, not just of supply and sale.
Let Cornwall be the light of dawn, not the eclipse of night.
And don’t be selfish, share the shellfish.