In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis tells the story of the famines that sucked the guts out of India in the 1870s. The hunger began when a drought, caused by El Niño, killed the crops on the Deccan plateau. As starvation bit, the viceroy, Lord Lytton, oversaw the export to England of a record 6.4m hundredweight of wheat. While Lytton lived in imperial splendour and commissioned, among other extravagances, “the most colossal and expensive meal in world history”, between 12 million and 29 million people died. Only Stalin manufactured a comparable hunger.
Now a new Lord Lytton is seeking to engineer another brutal food grab. As Tony Blair’s favoured courtier, Peter Mandelson often created the impression that he would do anything to please his master. Today he is the European trade commissioner. From his sumptuous offices in Brussels and Strasbourg, he hopes to impose a treaty that will permit Europe to snatch food from the mouths of some of the world’s poorest people.