IssueMay 2007
Comment by Emily Johns , Milan Rai


Two years ago, we helped to initiate a letter to the Guardian signed by, among others, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Caroline Lucas, John Pilger, Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Nobel Peace Prize Winner) and Hans von Sponeck (former UN Assistant Secretary-General).

The letter said that humanity faced a massive global threat from pandemic influenza, which might kill over 60 million people – 96% of them in the global South, and called for an end to corporate patents that restrict access to critical medicines; urgent funding by the rich world to boost health and surveillance systems in countries most at risk in Asia and Africa; and “the elimination of large-scale intensive livestock farming, which is accelerating the development of new pandemic viruses”.

The fear in 2007 (still relevant today, we believe) centred on the virus H5N1, generally known as “bird flu”. The fear today centres on the apparently less lethal virus H1N1, generally known as “swine flu”.

While we continue to permit intensive farming of pigs and birds in mega-farms, and the concentration of poor people in mega-slums, we will continue to accelerate the development of novel pandemic viruses, in addition to H5N1 and H1N1.

Corporate greed and Western self-interest are blocking urgently-needed actions. Disbelief among activists is also playing a part in delaying necessary change.


In yet another bizarre turn of events that no one could have predicted, the Freedom of Information Act (won by years of determined campaigning), the dogged five-year pursuit of the truth about parliamentary expenses by Heather Brooke, the carefully-managed use of leaked data by the Daily Telegraph, and the extraordinary antics of Westminster politicians have ignited something of a constitutional firestorm.

MPs are falling over themselves to affirm the need for radical reform. The Guardian has launched a campaign for a New Politics. Something is in the air, and no one knows quite what the consequences will be.

One possible result may well be a surge to the far-right. Another, more hopeful, possibility is that those disgusted with business as usual will vote – and, more importantly, campaign – for their ideals, for candidates and groups representing climate sanity and peace and justice.

This is the moment for the anti-war movement to demand a crucial constitutional reform, the reform Gordon Brown promised on coming into office: that the decision to go to war should be decided not by the prime minister (using the royal prerogative), but by parliamentary vote – if not by referendum. Making such decisions more democratically does not by itself make the course taken moral or unquestionable – but this reform would be a crucial and necessary stage in increasing the power of ordinary people to restrain the international violence of the state.

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