Whether or not you believe music can be a vehicle for social justice, with Live8 it certainly became a giant PR stunt – inadvertently protecting the very policies and principles it was pretending to fight against, sold as a mass Government brand aid. Come to think of it, Geldof wasn’t the first. New Labour has long sought to use naughty little rock stars as their public mascots. When Oasis and the rest of 1997’s Britpop heroes wined and dined at no.10 like true rock n roll rebels, no amount of cocaine sniffing in the bathroom could hide the fact they had just been crowned pawns. Poor Bono wasn’t invited that time: his Irish passport excluded him from the ‘Cool Britania’ brigade. But he got his turn at the 2004 Labour Party Conference where he assured us that Blair and Brown were the John and Paul of Global Development and that it was his job as Rock Star to ‘shout at the barricades!’. In other words his job was definitely not to aid New Labour’s desperately needed image repair in the ever-worsening aftermath of the Gulf War.
But never has popular music been so fruitlessly exploited to feed the egos of the rich, powerful and famous as it was at last year’s Live8. The world’s poor looked on as the stars and ‘Gold’ pass-holders feasted backstage on enough food and drink to fatten a starving village. If its predecessor LiveAid was the day the music changed the world, this was the day it rocked on and off for a few hours, and then shamed the world. The ’10 out of 10’ mark for Debt and Aid that Geldof so proudly gave his G8 mates now stands against Save the Children’s ‘2 out of 10’ appraisal of their delivery. The headline-grabbing ‘50 billion’ turned out to be a double count. The complete debt cancellation for Africa has only been granted to 18 of the 60 countries that actually need it, according to organizers of the Make Poverty History campaign. Perhaps worst of all, damaging economic small print was not removed from the aid and debt packages – something that makes all this sound like another Free Trade grab rather than anything fair, least of all charitable.
Ok so maybe Bob didn’t know he was being duped. Maybe he was ‘misled’ just like all those poor innocent Tory MP’s in the run up to the Gulf War. But before he patted Tony on the back and fell victim to New Labour’s latest web of spin, perhaps he should have listened to the response of organizations on the ground like Action Aid. As the conference closed, they already knew that the g8 was a failure to deliver on reducing world poverty in any significance measure. And perhaps he would have done well to speak out himself against the broken promises, instead of going so uncharacteristically quiet whilst the reality unfolded, only to come out of the woodwork sporting a true blue grin and shaking hands with the new Tory Leader, David Cameron. So it looks like ‘the day that rocked the world’ hasn’t changed much. Celebrities are still trying to help the poor and New Labour is still working on its public image. The lesson is that it takes more than swearing in public to be rock n roll and it takes more than rock n roll to make poverty history. Perhaps Bob and Bono should stick to what they do best – raising money – and leave the awareness stuff to people who aren’t afraid to offend their powerful friends.