THE BLOG

Alison Woodhead: Brown's Busiest Day

The choir was rousing, and the speeches were pretty good too, though you got the slight impression that Gordon Brown was motoring through it so he could get on with other things. This has got to be one of the busiest days of his life. Obama is already in the air and the communique is going down to the wire. At least a thousand people came to St. Paul's today, to listen to the UK and Australian PMs talk about morality and hope in the face of the worst crisis of our generation.

Mr. Brown ad-libbed the bit about aid and development promises -- it wasn't in the print-out of his speech -- but there's no doubting his commitment to tackling poverty as a key part of the response to the crisis, and Kevin Rudd was right there with him. They clearly have a lot of time for each other, and it was a convincing double act.

'We are eliminating tax havens', said Brown. "The question of climate change is alive in our minds as we go into the summit," said Rudd. "MDGs must be core business for all governments," they agreed. Rudd even had a cute thank you message for Brown: "Amongst rich countries, this bloke has been the still, small voice of conscience on the MDGs, or rather the loud booming Scottish voice..."

There were some good lines: "For many families...the most important financial summits are those that take place around their kitchen table..." ; "I know it's hard to talk about the future when you're having a tough time in the present; you don't redesign a boat in the midst of a storm"; 'We need a fair economic system, not laissez faire."

All in all, it was a good performance. And actually, I think it's really important that Brown is keeping expectations high for the summit. He spoke well about the need to rebuild hope and confidence for the long term, and repeatedly made the point that Thursday is part of a process of building a new economy; not an attempt to solve it all in one day.

But the summit is so close that reality is biting hard, and Brown admitted that many will be disappointed with the outcome. The G20 leaders are simply not going to deliver everything people are asking for on Thursday. The rhetoric is important, and Brown and Rudd certainly delivered on that today. The question is, come Thursday, when we get sight of the final communique, will the poorest people on the planet get more to keep them going than a good piece of theater?