Day one: on the way to the G8

In the first instalment in a series of articles on the G8 summit in Germany, Tamsyn from the World D

As the G8 leaders jet into Germany to begin another barbed summit surrounded by thousands of feet of protective fencing (apparently costing 13 million euros!) and tens of thousands of angry protesters, Leila and I are frantically triple checking that our reports, leaflets and cameras are at the ready in time for our 7 o’clock eurostar.

Today is day three of a week of protest and debate in Rostock, the nearest accessible town to the summit, and we are on our way to make the World Development Movement’s presence felt.

The news coverage I have seen in the UK has been slim so far but it seems to have been dominated by the activities of some violent activists and Blair and Merkel statements that the summit will be critical for Africa and climate change.

On the former I have heard from activists on the ground who are saying that the demonstrations have so far been peaceful with a diverse group of people taking part, including many children. The violence so far has been undertaken by a small minority.

On the G8 summit itself, I don’t believe it will deliver for the 1.1 billion living in extreme poverty. The language of a recently leaked draft communiqué is pro-business and anti-development. It’s pushing for investment deregulation, strengthening of intellectual property rights and the opening of markets. These sort of measures are more likely to lock millions into poverty.

Bush’s recent proposal on climate change to set up long term voluntary goals for countries to reduce global green house emissions is nothing but an attempt to distract from the existing UN negotiating process. The US also opposes any mention of the need to stop average global temperatures from increasing beyond 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

This kind of horse-trading over the G8 ‘text’ is par for the course. And at the World Development Movement we have learned not to expect much from the G8 . The G8 is not accountable to anyone, it is a self selecting group and rarely delivers on the promises it makes. You only need to look at Gleneagles - the year of Make Poverty History -where expectations on debt, aid and trade were high. The promises made were disappointing - promises that in many cases have not been fulfilled .

With climate change dominating the agenda it would seem strangely perverse to fly to the event, though many decision makers inevitably will. In the UK, international aviation is the fastest growing source of emissions, yet even though these are increasing, and have a 2-4 times greater warming effect because they are emitted directly in the atmosphere, the government is refusing to include them in their own emission reduction targets.

We will be attending the alternative G8 summit in Germany– taking part in a number of workshops, demonstrations, protests and cultural activities, as part of the anti-corporate globalisation movement, we will speak out about the illegitimacy of the G8.

Tonight we will be catching the overnight train to Rostock from London, joining other activists who are making their way by land to the summit. On arriving in Rostock we will be setting up camp with other activists, before what I expect will be a busy few days.

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State