The new ‘leader of the free world’ as the US president used to be styled, has arrived in London and stood (physically at any rate) shoulder to shoulder with Gordon Brown for a Downing Street photo opp. As he and Michelle popped inside for a cuppa and a pre-meeting chat with Gordon and Sarah, the unfamiliar sound of applause was heard outside number 10.
It seems likely that Brown and Obama will be peddling more or less the same line at the conference – the need for concerted global action, the importance of shunning protectionism and maintaining free trade, not letting short-sighted nationalism cloud our collective judgment – all very statesmanlike.
Unfortunately, the French and the Germans seem rather less likely to toe the Brown/Obama line. Perhaps on the not-entirely unreasonable basis that the Washington consensus is one of the things that got us into this mess in the first place. Nicolas Sarkozy stated yesterday that he is not about to ‘sign up to any false compromises’ while Angela Merkel’s refusal to endorse a joint fiscal stimulus has certainly not made the political tightrope that PM Brown is walking any less wobbly.
And it is not just our continental cousins who are threatening to derail the summit. The City of London is expected to be thronging with protestors today, taking to the streets to voice their objections to – well you name it really. Bankers bonuses, the recession, the environment, climate change… Protest organisers are all stressing the non-violent nature of their intended actions, but the authorities are taking no chances – shops and premises along the intended routes are being boarded up, and City firms seem to be vying with one another over the volume of ‘helpful’ advice they are offering to staff.
Tips for managing the protests offered to employees so far include dressing down, arriving early and bringing homemade sandwiches to avoid venturing onto the mean streets at lunchtime. (Funny that, an extra-long working day with no break, all in the name of ‘elf ‘n’safety. Perhaps a few more protests would help us work our way out of recession).
Early reports from the City this morning suggest that, while there were a lot of suspiciously ‘smart casual’ commuters reading the FT on the tube this morning, there was a disappointing lack of hoodie-sporting demonstrators intent on burning themselves a few bankers. Although encouragingly, one group of ‘anarchists’ have occupied a disused office block near Liverpool Street, and another group have been arrested trying to drive an armoured car into the area. City workers are fighting back in the traditional stye - one banner on the HBOS building apparently reads 'While you're protesting, we're repossessing your home.'
Micro-bloggging site Twitter is said to be alive with audacious plans for the rest of the day and there’s time for things to get even more colourful this afternoon. The protestors may want to save the world, but not so badly that they are prepared to get up early and get on with it.