G20 Road Show Comes To London

Any summit is practically over before it begins owing to the planning which goes into one, however brief. And this G20 meeting is beyond brief considering all the build up.

Here are some behind-the-scenes details.

Although it’s known as the G20, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has invited additional delegates from the Netherlands and Spain. A document purporting to be the guest host’s official pecking order of nations was “leaked.” Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, and the United States make up the “A List.” The “B” list nations are Canada, Australia, Russia, Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey. The European Union, itself a member of the G20, suspiciously appears to be missing from the list.

Brown spent a part of Tuesday morning speaking about the ethics of globalization at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the iconic Wren edifice which survived the World War Two blitz. He reprised the Martin Luther King line about “the fierce urgency of now," quoted often during the Obama Presidential campaign. With all Brown has riding on this summit, he most certainly fervently prayed as well.

The Queen and Prince Philip will host a reception on Wednesday evening. Every country attending the G20 was allowed to bring five people. Later, at the Prime Minster’s residence, Number 10 Downing Street, celebrity chef, Jaime Oliver will oversee the serving of his dinner menu to the inner circle of leaders. He might have an extra helping left over if President Sarkozy of France makes good on his threat to walk out of the summit. Sarko has his own agenda — creation of a new global financial czar. He was recently heard to sniff that he should get his way because this financial mess was all the fault of “les Anglo-Saxons.”

Meanwhile, the police and diverse groups of protestors were having their own run-up to the big day. A few days ago, five people were arrested on suspicion of planning to disrupt the summit. A flurry of police raids disgorged explosives made of fireworks and an array of weapons from handguns to hunting rifles to a Kalashnikov-style assault rifle.

A group calling itself “The G20 Meltdown” took charge of co-coordinating four different marches that are supposed to converge on the Bank of England. To keep things coordinated, the organizers have set up a Twitter account. Several groups who call themselves anarchists have announced they will join one or more of the scheduled marches, but will break away once in the City of London (aka The Square Miles aka The Financial District). A map labeled "Squaring up to the Square Mile" has been circulated among protesters, but someone has observed that the location it gives for London Stock Exchange is incorrect. The LSE relocated in 2004 and is now across the street from Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

The protestors have also previewed their official souvenir for the day. It is a fake British Bank Note with a nasty depiction of the Scottish economist and moral philosopher, Adam Smith, on one side and a faceless jester in place of the Queen on the other. The idea is to litter the City with the gag currency, which one presumes is to show their concern for the environment, if not the trees.

More than 3,000 police officers will be on duty during the summit period, with up to 10,000 protesters expected to stage rallies and marches. A new reinforced ring of steel has been constructed around the U.S. embassy in central London. The Foreign Office has said that the summit is likely to cost the British government around £20 million. £8 million of that amount will be for security.

Now as for President Obama’s participation in the summit, the White House has not released an estimated cost to the U.S. taxpayer, but it must enough to bail out another bank or two. The President landed at Stansted Airport on Tuesday evening aboard Air Force One, along with the First Lady, 200 members of the American secret service and another 300 staffers — the Portable White House if you will. It is the largest travelling retinue in U.S. presidential history. The President’s limo, nicknamed “The Beast” for its extremely elaborate security add-ons, was flown over. A couple of helicopters were necessary too, and so was the ubiquitous press corps. The UK Telegraph’s U.S. Editor, Toby Harnden, was among the media band on Air Force One. He received a copy of what he described as a sort of “Britain for Dummies Guide” with the Presidential seal on it. Did you know that Britain is slightly smaller than Oregon?

Upon his arrival, the President was met by Chancellor (Treasury Secretary Equivalent), Alistair Darling and his wife Margaret. No bands. The British public were informed that, being aware of the current economic realities, Mr. Darling travelled to the airport on the Stansted Express Train from London’s Liverpool Street Station, accompanied by a few police officers and security staff. It has also been revealed that the gift bags assembled for the G20 have been downsized, with a classic British Tea Towel as the signature gift item.

Ironically, the Obamas will be staying at the official residence of the U.S. ambassador. Winfield House was built in the 1930s (during the last Great Depression) with money inherited from retailer Franklin Winfield Woolworth. Woolworth’s (UK) went belly-up last year, after a century of being Britain’s most beloved five and ten store.

On Thursday morning, the world leaders finally get down to work at the Excel centre in London’s docklands. Here is the schedule:

Leaders’ breakfast: 8:30 a.m.-9:45 a.m.

Morning session including finance ministers and central bankers
: 9:50 a.m.-1:25pm

Lunch: 1:25 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Afternoon session including finance ministers and central bankers
: 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.

Closing press conferences
: 3:30 onwards

That’s it!

All that time and trouble and money for this select group of people to get together in London to solve the world’s financial crisis, and the taxpayers of the world won’t even get eight hours of labor out of them. If fixing the ailing global economy was only going to take four hours and 35 minutes of work, punctuated with lavish meals, couldn’t they have done it more easily, sooner, and more economically? Whatever happened to energy efficiency and global warming concerns? What’s wrong with eco-friendly video teleconferencing?

Pass me a tea towel. I need to have a good cry.