22 May 2005
Last week’s visit by George Galloway to the US Senate has provoked a lot of coverage in the British media, but hardly for the right reasons. He was a noted and forceful critic of’ the Iraq war, who was thrown out of the Labour party for the tone of his opposition to it. His parliamentary seat in Glasgow disappeared in the redrawing of constituencies at the end of the last parliament but he stood against a Labour supporter of the war in an east London seat with a large Muslim population and was elected. His campaign against the war and the continuing occupation will, he has promised, continue.
That’s the background; what happened last week?
There were allegations that he had received illicit funds from Saddam Hussein during the period of sanctions. A Senate sub-committee had declared him guilty. He wanted to defend himself. Now, I am no fan of George Galloway and even less a fan of some of the company he keeps, but I think I may on this occasion salute his indefatigability. The great thing about the Senate hearing wasn’t the rhetoric nor the debating style, whatever the media commentators might have said, but because it brought national parliamentarians together.
One of the continuing difficulties in international decision-making is the infrequency with which the people who have to make those decisions meet each other. National governments leaders have their regular summits of course, but that is hardly enough. They meet in secret, and can’t really be accountable for what they have done if the parliaments to which they might be accountable have no sources of information other than what those same government leaders tell them.
For example, members of the US Senate might opine about the world and vote for the invasion of a foreign country, but have they any idea of the broader consequences. What will the impact be? Who was able to tell them?
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, and this blog is not really the place for that discussion, the world clearly needs a better way of taking decisions. This point is even more clearly demonstrated in the case of trade discussions. In this instance, most of the countries involved are democracies in their own right so that the invoked need to protect the Iraqi people from their own government does not apply.
A sensible and rational means of taking collective economic and trade decisions is long overdue. WTO summits involve only trade ministers: their national parliaments are told to take or leave the decisions that are reached. Much better would be to involve national parliamentarians, too, so that those who are defending protectionism in rich countries can explain their case to those in poor countries who lose out as a result., The route to a managed liberalisation of trade depends on a mutual agreement and that in turn depends on politicians (and citizens) being able to talk to each other.
Back to Washington DC. Not only did George Galloway have to defend his actions, it also fell to the US senators to defend theirs. It is a welcome step that American politicians had to account in public for their actions. Governments talking only to governments is not enough.
This blog entry first appeared on www.yes-campaign.net. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union or of the Yes campaign.