Save the Children is a charity that I have long been an advocate for and supporter of.
It was with great interest, therefore, that I recently learned that this charity was to award its “global legacy award” to Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister. It seems that the United States arm of Save the Children wishes “to recognise Blair’s vanguard leadership on the world international development stage, particularly for his ‘commitment to Africa’”.
In its role as an international children’s charity, Save the Children’s choice of Tony Blair to receive this award is, to say the least, controversial. The public campaigning movement 38 Degrees has pointed out that “many see him as the cause of the deaths of countless children in the Middle East, with damning allegations relating to his role as Middle East envoy and businesses dealings with autocratic rulers and others in the region”.
So too, the former prime minister is central to Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into Britain’s controversial and protracted war in Iraq.
According to research by 38 Degrees in late 2014, it emerged that “Blair had signed a multimillion pound contract with a Saudi Arabian oil company in 2010 to broker secret deals on the firm’s behalf with Chinese state officials. The revelation raises serious questions over the former PM’s diplomatic role as Middle East envoy, as well as his personal vested interests in the region”. So too, earlier that year, Blair managed to “successfully quash a Serious Fraud Office investigation into alleged corruption regarding an arms deal with Saudi Arabia”.
It is for these reasons, amongst others, that 38 Degrees believes that Tony Blair should not have been awarded Save the Children’s Global Legacy Award. The movement considers that “his ‘legacy’ in Iraq overshadows his achievements in Africa”. In excess of 120,000 signatures appeared on a petition from 38 Degrees as a campaign was launched for this award to Tony Blair to be withdrawn. My signature was included. It seems that, had it been possible for those without UK postcodes to sign the petition as well, an even greater number of signatures would have been achieved. This is still a very good result, however, and the petition has certainly made its point.
The petition from 38 Degrees was delivered to Save the Children UK’s Chief Executive, Justin Forsyth, in January of this year.
Although it was mentioned that “Save the Children UK claim no responsibility for the award”, that is not entirely true. It seems that Justin Forsyth was “a former adviser to Tony Blair and was asked by the American branch to pass the award onto his former boss. Forsyth had the opportunity to advise the USA that it was inappropriate, but chose not to do so”. Even had the US branch of Save the Children acted autonomously, it was a very unwise action for an international charity.
The saddest part of giving such an inappropriate recipient an award is that Save the Children could have given it to someone more deserving. 38 Degrees has mentioned a number of persons in this regard – including Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, as well as Ebola nurse William Pooley. Such choices by Save the Children would have done itself a great deal of good and, moreover, generated substantial positive publicity.
Of course, it was not the intention of those who organised the petition for 38 Degrees to damage Save the Children as a charitable organisation. On the contrary, it was to help them regain the trust of those (myself included) who have supported them over the years. Those that presented the petition were able to have a discussion with Save the Children representatives about the “differences in the perception of Tony Blair and (Save the Children) policy in the Middle East compared to that of the UK branch”.
Further, there was a chance to discuss “the shortfall in our own UK government’s response to the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the overall political situation of occupation and oppression”. It seems to me that the time has gone when global charitable organisations can ignore issues of social and political justice and economic inequality.
Since the petition was handed in and the discussions have taken place, Save the Children have acknowledged that: “In retrospect we should have foreseen the controversies this (award to Tony Blair) might generate. For a number of reasons this is not a decision Save the Children UK would have taken. This isn’t because Tony Blair doesn’t deserve recognition for the leadership he showed on Africa – he does – but because his other actions, particularly those on Iraq which Save the Children opposed strongly at the time, overshadow how the public see him in the UK. In the US his public profile is very different”.
Save the Children’s response concluded with “we wanted to assure you that work is ongoing within the global Save the Children movement to look at what lessons can be learnt as we want nothing to distract us from our work to make the world a better place for children and their families”.
This being the case, I hope and trust that Save the Children, or for that matter any other charity, will consider all the implications before acting so unwisely in the future.
Presenting a petition by concerned citizens to charities, governments, football clubs, etc., is not the only way of enabling the voice of protest to be heard.
If you lived, as I did, through the experiences of the 1960’s you will know that the voice of protest was voluminously heard in the popular music of the day – war and racial prejudice being primary targets of the dissidents’ views and foci of their voices. Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Donovan, John Lennon, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Joan Baez, are some musicians who come to mind and who represent a wide spectrum of music.
It would seem that the musician’s voice of protest is still being heard.
I recently came across an article in the “Daily Review” of the Australian publication “Crikey”. The article spoke of an Australian pop group with whom I am not particularly familiar – “The Basics”. Apart from writing and performing protest music and songs, it appears that this group is having a fair crack at starting a new political party.
The focus of their protest is quite obvious from the press release for their new EP, The Lucky Country. The group’s leader, Kris Schroeder, says: “We’re songwriters but we’re not just here to talk about love, heartbreak and getting drunk … Thinking that respect for other cultures enhances our nation rather than diminishes it doesn’t make you unpatriotic … We’ve got this toxic culture fostered on ‘what’s in it for me?’ … maybe someone needs to take Australia by the wrist, give it a shake and say ‘WAKE UP’. And why not a bunch of musicians?”
Why not, indeed! Musicians, in Australia as elsewhere, have an excellent track record of being a voice of protest. If “The Basics” are anything to go by, it is a tradition and track record that is being impressively maintained.