Mark Thomas gives a baroness an ultimatum

Baroness Amos has a choice: she can approve public money for the Baku oil pipeline, or she can behav

In case the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has his way and gets to introduce ID cards, I have come up with a scheme for how we should oppose them. I think everyone in Britain should change their name by deed poll to David Blunkett. As many of us as possible should grow dodgy beards and buy black Labradors. Then, every time we see a police officer, we should rush up and demand that they inspect our ID card. If they don't wish to see our cards, we should chase after them, berating them in the street and shouting: "Middle-class do-gooders! You're nothing but Islington chattering-class snobs!"

Admittedly, Blunkett is a politician who revels in confrontation. He likes it when people dislike him and, God bless him, he does make it easy for us to do so. Other politicians don't like to be noticed; they quietly promote themselves by not causing a stir. Therefore, our duty as active citizens should be to make their job as troublesome and confrontational as possible. "All very well as pub theories go, Mark," you may say, "but what practical examples and reasons can you give us?" I'm so very glad you asked.

Baroness Amos, the Secretary of State for International Development, is a quiet Blairite who has done nothing noticeably untoward. OK, it is ironic that the person in charge of a department which claims to promote democracy and good governance in the developing world should hold her position as a result of unelected patronage politics, stemming from a feudal system of land ownership. But let's put that aside.

The real issue the baroness has to face is whether to support an oil pipeline and hand over millions of pounds of public money to a BP-led consortium. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is planned to run from Azerbaijan, via Georgia, to Turkey. BP and friends are looking for up to $600m in loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC, part of the World Bank). Baroness Amos is the minister responsible for the UK's contributions to and decisions at both banks and instructs their British executive directors. In other words, she can say no to this project. She has a choice. She can approve public money for the scheme, or she can behave like she might just give a damn about people blighted by poverty and conflict in developing regions.

If given the go-ahead, the pipeline will pass through or near seven conflict zones. That's right - seven - including the Kurdish region of Turkey, where the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has just abandoned a four-year unilateral ceasefire and specifically declared oil pipelines targets for attack. Any increase in the militarisation of these areas will inevitably lead to human rights abuses. From the deaths of Ken Saro-Wiwa and Ogoni activists in Nigeria, through the violence in Colombia and on to the rape and torture of the Karen people in Burma, oil development has brought little but barbarism to local populations.

Employees of the EBRD recently met demonstrators outside the bank's offices in Exchange Square in the City of London. They told the soap-dodgers that oil pipelines were good for development. However, they found themselves in considerable difficulty when protesters asked them to name an example. In fact, they couldn't. Kinder readers shouldn't worry about the fate of staff: they might seem incompetent, but that kind of barefaced PR work stands them in good stead for a career in the tobacco industry.

The deals (called Host Government Agreements) signed between the consortium and the countries through which the pipeline would pass ensure that any changes these nations make to laws regarding corporate tax, health and safety or the environment (in fact, anything that might upset the developers) would not apply to the consortium. BP has negotiated corporate law throughout the lands that the proposed 1,082-mile pipeline will cross. Corporate law has superseded national law. How does this help promote democracy and good governance?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the most pro-corporate oil regime in the world, the Export-Import Bank of the United States has managed to reject $1.6bn worth of funding for the Camisea gas pipeline in Peru on the grounds that the project would adversely affect human rights and the environment.

Baroness Amos should remember this bank's decision - just as she should remember how many shouted "No blood for oil" and "Not in my name". The planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline would wreak havoc on the lives of local people, led by Blair's favourite oil company, BP, supported by the US State Department and possibly funded by British taxpayers. Blood for oil, in our name, is exactly what the pipeline would be.

The EBRD's public consultation runs until 14 October (see

This article first appeared in the 06 October 2003 issue of the New Statesman, Who the hell are you?