Thursday, 13 November 2008

New York, New York

Nothing beats New York traffic and nothing beats an NYPD police convoy from JFK airport to the Waldorf Astoria - nothing except New York drivers that is.

Travelling with the Prime Minister enroute to the G20 summit is meant to have its advantages but in the race against deadlines (yes, even in this age print machines have to start on time)and today it looked as if the New Yorkers might defeat the best efforts of Her Majesty's press and the Secret Service.

Only in New York would drivers think themselves important enough to join a high speed, blackened window, seven van long, security convoy. All the way in from the drome we were tailgated by eager commuters ready to join the fun of running the lights all the way downtown.

That's my excuse anyway for the slightly hasty copy I filed for the Herald, reposted below:

G20 look ahead - by Torcuil Crichton, chief UK political correspondent
New York

Appropriately, for someone who is presenting himself as a global chancellor, Gordon Brown had drinks in New York last night with a roomful of world class economists. Among their number were Joseph Stiglitz Paul Krugman, two Nobel prize winners.

Krugman it was who described Mr Brown’s bank saving bail out in the UK as the work of a “saviour”. So it was a case of god meets genius over cocktails in the Waldorf Astoria.

Mr Brown arrived in America to make history at the meeting of the G20 countries being trailed as a remake of Bretton Woods - the WWII conference that shaped the modern world’s financial institutions.

With the model broken and a worldwide crash a real possibility Mr Brown and President Zarkozy of France have seized the opportunity to attempt nothing less than re-order global finance with a shopping list for outgoing President Bush to sign.

Mr Brown’s agenda for Washington this weekend is if not short of ambitious. It includes co-ordination on a package of financial stimulus - tax cuts and public spending , a clean up of the banking system, a beefed up surveillance role for the IMF and, demands for banks to pass on interest rate cuts to customers and a new push for a world trade deal.

Is any of it possible? Well, Mr Brown comes to Washington with the wind in his sails. The economic crisis has transformed his premiership of Britain and brought home his global reputation as a leader who actually understands and delights in the machinations of economics.

He already has assurances from the Persian Gulf region to help refinance the IMF’s $250 billion bail out pot for struggling countries and he will pressure China to increase its contributions too. Last night, while attending an interfaith conference, the Prime Minister was expected hold talks with the Emir of Kuwait and the King of Saudi Arabia.

International opinion sees him as a leading the world in finding fiscal solutions for these times and he has spoken about the need to project confidence to the markets and to people fearful for their jobs and homes.

Mr Brown has emphasised the need for a clear timetable for reform - the French leading the EU delegation are talking of a one hundred day deadline - but its clear that the United States is less enthusiastic. They have their own ideas about world leadership.

With the White House in transition, and President Elect Barrack Obama distancing himself from the event, it is hard to see how binding the decisions of the conference will be on the new administration.

Number Ten foreign affairs specialist Simon McDonald and Stewart Wood are meeting with representatives the Obama transition team at the conference but these are feelers not bi-laterals. There will be no meeting with the man himself - he’s staying put in Chicago and making the world wait a while.

Mr Obaba has sent Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the conference along with Jim Leach, a former Republican Congressman who supported his campaign. Neither are expected to be members of Mr Obama’s cabinet.

Getting US agreement to curb the behaviour of hedge funds and speculators on an international basis is a big ask. Getting emerging powers like China and the Middle East countries to contribute to the IMF without giving them a bigger say in the US dominated institution will be a tall order.

Many are sceptical that agreement can be found between the developing nations attending the summit and the western powers over access to world markets.

Negotiations following Breton Woods took two years and some are predicting a decade of work before any international financial agreement can be found now. But in Mr Brown’s own words, the cost of inaction will be far greater than the cost of action. In fearful times, when capitalism itself looks shaky, people look for leadership. Mr Brown may not get that handshake this time but the most cerebral and economic of Prime Ministers will look on this as his own Obama moment.

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