Thursday, June 23, 2005

Vasco Where Are You?

Bob Geldof has today confirmed some of my major suspicions about Live 8. Firstly, that he needs the big stars to turn out more than he needs people to engage with the issues of poverty. He's hoping to bask in the reflected glow of REM, Coldplay, the reunited Pink Floyd et al, rather than encouraging interest in the problems of world poverty on an intellectual basis.

Perhaps more worryingly, though, he's almost suggesting here that people should be involved in Live 8 regardless of the issues involved. Geldof is right; the project is worthy - therefore everyone he wants there should be part of the act.

"Vasco is a great star, a really great, great artist, and I think he should be on that stage," Geldof, the organiser of the event, told a news conference in Rome.

Wait a minute. This isn't just putting on a show, is it? It's a political protest to argue for a specific action to be taken to combat an identified problem. Whether someone is a great artist or not should only be a deciding factor in setting the bill once the willing have been identified. Of course, there's a more serious problem for Geldof at hand here:

Unlike in Britain, where Live 8 has received massive publicity, it has been barely mentioned by Italian media.

The one thing Geldof needs on his ego-trip (however sincere) is publicity. And he obviously feels that without Vasco, whoever he may be, he's not going to be able to get it. Well, at least without a public appeal for Vasco to attend, he isn't going to get the publicity.

There's something slightly sour about this. I'm sceptical about the Make Poverty History campaign - their slogan is so basic as to brook no argument, but the specifics of the deal are far more dodgy. Why, for example, should trade barriers be acceptable in African countries, but beastly in Europe? Why is aid always considered the be-all and end-all, and a programme of proper and structural reform, both governmental and economic, in the poverty-stricken countries be put on the backburner? Corruption in government prevents aid reaching those who really need it, and is vitally important that political reform is established if a proper long-term solution is found. And only a long-term solution will make poverty history.

So the attitude of Geldof is more dangerous than it may at first appear. Getting stars on board for Live 8 may get some people interested in getting to grips with the issue - but for all too many it will just become another trite slogan to be repeated ad nauseam. That is inimical to proper debate, and inimical to taking real action on the issue. The matters at hand can't be solved just by sending a shedload of taxpayers money to Africa. Shifting some subsidies away from uncompetitive farming industries would help - but there needs to be a real and proper debate on that. Just calling for more aid doesn't help.

Because a lack of intelligent public debate (not helped, of course, by the media) stifles real discussion, and real progress. We saw it with the Iraq war. The hard-left shouts of "war for oil!" or "why aren't we spending this money on hospitals?" only served to turn the whole debate into a polarised slanging match. There were many decent and respectable positions on both sides - and the principle of the pre-emptive doctrine deserved a full and frank discussion of its merits. But trite, unthinking slogans don't help that. They just encourage politicians to play to the media cycle, chasing headlines rather than trying to make a difference.