I spent the weekend of the Royal wedding walking in the Peak District with members of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. The weather was beautiful and the scenery really fine. But the most notable thing was what a lovely bunch of people I joined up with. They were all committed to standing up against injustice in Palestine. Some were Jewish, some highly committed Christians, some trade unionists and all good fun to be with. Many ended up with blisters or aching leg muscles, but a few thousand pounds was collected in sponsorship money which will help to fund acts of civil disobedience in the Palestinian occupied territories, as ICAHD volunteers work with local people to rebuild demolished houses.
Tagore in the modern world
This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Tagore, the great Bengali poet, artist and humanitarian. Dartington Hall near Totnes arranged a festival to celebrate this event. Tagore Visited Dartington on a number of occasions and help to inspire the Elmhirsts to found Dartington with its commitment to nature, environmentalism, arts, culture, and internationalism. I had agreed to do a lecture on Tagore’s values in the modern world. It is now on the website.
I stayed for just the day but the gardens were totally beautiful and the atmosphere around the festival was a joy.
Charleston Literary Festival
I accepted an invitation to debate at the festival, partly so that I could see the famous house where so many of the Bloomsbury group lived and worked. The debate was on the motion “ Our obsession with the past is a distraction from present reality”. The debate was well attended and was really good fun. My side enjoyed the fact that a majority voted against the motion when they came into the marquee, but having heard the arguments, the motion was carried by a good majority. My argument was that the UK has an obsession with its days of Empire and being a great power, and this makes it abjectly pursue a special relationship with the US in order that we can claim to be close to a great power. The real danger to the future is global warming, shortages of natural resources leading to hunger and catastrophe. The UK could be a much more useful country if it looked for allies to work to settle the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, so that we could work as an undivided world to deal with these threatened catastrophes rather than behaving like America’s poodle.
In addition I got to look around our house which is charming and interesting and worth a visit. I was most moved by the fact that John Maynard Keynes wrote some of his most important work there.
Kinshasa and Brazzaville
I have recently got back from visiting Kinshasa and Brazzaville. Both are resource rich countries that have experienced exploitation, bad governance, great poverty and Civil War. This is the classical resource curse; countries rich in natural resources are more likely to be badly governed, suffer corruption and proneness to conflict than comparable countries without rich natural resources. The purpose of my visit was to encourage both countries to sign up to the principle of full transparency in reporting income from natural resources in the hope that transparency will lead to improved accountability.
At the same time I met with African members of the Publish What You Pay coalition who were meeting in Kinshasa. They were an impressive bunch of people campaigning for improved transparency in order to improve the governance of their countries.
The referendum on the alternative vote
I am a strong supporter of the shift to a more proportional system of voting in the UK. I think the reason the was so little passion in the campaign on the Alternative Vote was that it was not a proportional solution. I am afraid that Nick Clegg was so keen to get into government that he was willing to settle for too little in the coalition agreement. He could and should have insisted on a referendum on the Alternative Vote plus, the system that the Roy Jenkins Commission recommended. This would have given us both single-member constituencies and proportional outcome to our elections. It is not surprising that the referendum was lost.
The future of Asia
The Asian Development Bank has suggested that growth in Asia will slow. The trend growth in 2010 was 8.5%. Sustained growth on this scale would increase Asia’s share of world GDP from 27% now to 51% by 2050. This would be three times Asia’s share in the 1950s and closed to its 58% share in 1700, before the Industrial Revolution transformed the West. But the Bank sees a real danger of Asia experiencing a Middle Income trap like South America in the 1960s and the Philippines after the Second World War. The ADB suggests that if Asia doesn’t deal with region wide weaknesses such as corruption, lack of accountability, poor access to justice, widespread income inequality and slow progress in improving innovation and productivity, then there is a more than even chance that Asia will fall into this trap.
The largest international migration in history took place between 1800 and the First World War. 50 million people left Europe permanently and 65 million for part of their lives. 20% of Europeans moved to the Americas, Australia or South Africa. Between 1846-1890 more than half were from the UK and Ireland and almost all from poor rural areas.
Hunger in India
According to Sundeep Chakravati in Red Sun (a book about the Maoist rebellions in India, published in 2009), UNDP and Unicef figures show that close to half the children in India are malnourished or stunted and one fifth of the total population of the country go hungry. Nearly three quarters of Indians don’t have access to safe drinking water or sanitation.