Here are the first two paragraphs of the media release at
announcing the G7 Summit in Cornwall this year.
[Spoiler: We are indulging my inner grumpy old so-and-so today. By reading this you agree to all manner of terms & conditions. In return, you have my permission to buy yourself a cookie or small bar of chocolate later and eat it in defiance of your diet.
“Prime Ministers and Presidents from the world’s leading democracies will come together in Cornwall in June to address shared challenges, from beating coronavirus and tackling climate change, to ensuring that people everywhere can benefit from open trade, technological change and scientific discovery.”
Isn’t that great? Doesn’t that make you feel good? They’re coming to Cornwall to– Oh. Sorry. Here’s the second paragraph.
“The Prime Minister will use the first in-person G7 summit in almost two years to ask leaders to seize the opportunity to build back better from coronavirus, uniting to make the future fairer, greener and more prosperous.”
Won’t that be great? He’s going to stand up and ask them to seize the opportunity.
And they’re going to react like the idea had never occurred to them, reaching out with both hands – imagine them all pushing back from the conference table, raising their arms, swiping at the air as though they’ve been asked to do something real.
I like that bit from the first paragraph. They’re coming together “to address shared challenges, from beating coronavirus and tackling climate change…”
Such feelgood rhetoric. Unfair, really, to point out that they’re not coming together to beat coronavirus, nor indeed to tackle climate change.
But if “addressing” can do even a fraction of the good of “beating” or “tackling” – they’ll address. No problem.
Why am I reacting so strongly to a piece of flannel about an over-promoted talkfest of a photo-op between elderly politicians who - most of them - can’t organise a vaccine roll-out in a single market?
I don’t know, actually.
Because somehow it encapsulates the modern condition? Yes, perhaps that.
What is the modern condition? Oh, thank you for asking.
We talk so well because we don’t do. We talk so well because we know we don’t do. We shy away from the specific – tackling climate change – and console ourselves with the abstract – addressing the challenge. Faced with difficulty, or impossibility, we retreat into words.
We’ve honed the skill of talking to the point where it gives us the same feeling as if we’d taken action. We can almost convince ourselves that we’re tackling climate change when in fact what we’re doing – sorry, what we’re announcing, not doing, is that we’ve agreed to set targets for tackling climate change.
Which isn’t the same as doing anything. Of course. The action evaporates into the words. We cheer the target-setting and meet the failure to keep to those targets without surprise.
For another example. I pick up on this flower-arrangement of words from the opening paragraph: “...to ensuring that people everywhere can benefit...”
They’re coming to Cornwall to “ensure” that people “can”. Isn’t that state-of-the-art content-free speech?
They’re not “doing”; they’re “ensuring”. And they’re not ensuring that people “will” benefit; they’re ensuring that people “can” benefit.
I “can” benefit from a lot of things. Whether I “will” benefit from them depends on whether anybody gets their act together and does the work needed to provide them. No, wait. I “can” benefit. I’m already perfectly capable of benefiting. Oh, never mind.
At least the closing communique will tell us that they’ve all agreed to seize the opportunity. I’m hoping for at least a moment’s emotional boost from the rousing verbiage of the closing communique. I bet the main points of that have already been drafted.
I’m also hoping for a photo-op on the beach, Boris and his chums in front of a sandcastle, ideally, a good, big sandcastle, as well as the whole inevitable salad of further-back advertising hoardings for the conference centre and the tourist board.
Ask not what the politicians have agreed.
Ask instead who built the sandcastle.
Or place your faith in the younger generation and go look for a child with a spade.