Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Friday, 10 July 2009 18:04 UK

James Landale's G8 diary

James Landale

World leaders, including Gordon Brown, have gathered for a G8 summit in L'Aquila, the Italian city struck by an earthquake earlier this year. BBC Political Correspondent James Landale is with them.

British troops in Afghanistan

And so another summit ends, again on a curious note. We shall soon forget the announcements on climate change and food aid. But the image of another prime minister once again having to defend and explain what is, for some, an unpopular war will linger on. Gordon Brown's voice quivered as he praised and honoured the unselfish self-sacrifice of those servicemen and women who have given their lives. But he had a harder task explaining why. Many people will accept, as he says, that there is a chain of terror running from the plains of Afghanistan to the cities of Britain. But are our troops doing the right job, in the right place, in the right number and with the right strategy? That question is harder to answer. But one surely Mr Brown might consider when he meets defence chiefs later to discuss just what is happening on the plains of Afghanistan.


How do you get access to one of the most secure places in the world, namely the fortress compound of a G8 summit? Easy. You just pretend to be a journalist. This is the favoured tactic of the aid agencies and other non-governmental organisations who loiter around the press rooms criticising whatever the summit agrees on aid or climate change. Thus this week some rather curious organs have been spotted around L'Aquila: the Church Times, the Baptist Times, even the left-wing weekly Tribune. One aid agency - they know who they are - tried to come in as the Catholic Times but were refused by the Italian authorities who thought they were linked to The Times which is currently in bad odour in Rome after running some critical pieces about Silvio Berlusconi. You might think the mainstream media might resent these interlopers Actually we quite like them. Not only do they understand the detail of the policies, they are quite happy to explain it to those of us who don't.

An Australian cricketer

At last, after years of silence, some politics from the prime minister's wife. Normally Sarah Brown is studiously cautious and non-commital about her views in public. Unlike other prime ministerial spouses one can think of. But now the blogging, cooking, networking, all-round support system for Team Brown has publicly expressed a view: she does not like veal. So much so that she has turned down one of Italy's most traditional dishes no fewer than twice during her time touring the margins of the G8 summit in L'Aquila. What next? Her thoughts on Trident perhaps? Or public spending? Or Tony Blair? What a thought. Writing in her summit blog, Mrs Brown said: "Am hoping that no veal served at lunch again today - have declined it twice this trip as feel very strongly about it."

George Clooney

At last a joke from the prime minister. As he arrived for a much delayed briefing, Mr Brown told us: "I am sorry for being late. It is not because I have been watching the cricket. It's because the meetings have run on." The sheer chutzpah of it! The idea the prime minister ever sits down to watch the cricket....

G8 summit L'Aquila

Summits can be rather dull affairs. Thousands of journalists in highly secure chaos reporting on a bunch of men in suits - and it is still largely men - negotiating reams of often undigestible jargon-filled diplomatese soon to be forgotten the moment the caravan moves on. But there are occasional splashes of colour. Word has reached the summit village in L'Aquila that no lesser personage than George Clooney is in the vicinity. The film star is the new Bono, the celeb brought out to highlight aid and trade for the developing world. He is apparently opening a cinema nearby and touring a local tent city where thousands of homeless survivors of April's earthquake are still living. But the hoards of correspondents rushing for a glimpse of Signor Clooney are not just female. There is a rumour that Carla will be there too. The Italian-born wife of the French president is so iconic now that, like our London mayor, she is known by her first name alone. For the first time in a rather dry summit, a few pulses are racing.

Police on duty in Rome ahead of G8 summit
Italy will be hoping not to see a repeat of 2001

The G8 summit is being held in a huge complex where Italy's Guardia di Finanza trains its new recruits. This leads to two thoughts. First, Silvio Berlusconi has chosen to hold his summit in a Police Academy. You choose which sequel he was thinking of. Second, what does Gordon Brown think as he watches ranks of grey-uniformed, heavily-armed financial police march up and down the streets? Could he perhaps, just fleetingly, wonder why he, as Chancellor, never had his hands on a financial militia like this, a sort of paramilitary customs and excise and Serious Fraud Office rolled into one? How different might things have been through all those years of conflict with Tony Blair? Just a thought.


Sarah and Gordon Brown

We - the prime minister and his entourage of officials and assorted hackery - have arrived in Italy for the summit of G8 nations. At least that is what it is today, a meeting of Britain, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the US. For tomorrow we take on China, Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa and become the G8 + 5. As if that were not enough, our Italian hosts have invited along Egypt so we shall then become the G8 + 5 + 1. Only we won't because the Chinese president has flown home to deal with his internal unrest. Thus we shall be the G8 + 5 + 1 - 1. Are you following me? Now it gets easier. President Obama has also convened something tomorrow called the Major Economies Forum to discuss climate change. This comprises all of the above plus South Korea, Indonesia, Australia and the EU, but not Egypt. Denmark will be there because they are chairing important climate change talks later this year. By my maths, you could call this the G18. So we are almost up to the G20 which met earlier this year in London - remember that? - and will reconvene in Pittsburgh in September. A lot of meetings, a lot of money, but how much progress?


I am en route to the G8 in Italy with Gordon Brown. And already I am late with the news. It appears the press pack has a new member, one Sarah Brown who will be blogging from the summit.

See the Prime Minister's wife's first post at

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