Thursday, January 12, 2006

rob the poor to pay the rich

Bob Geldof has been recruited to advise the new shiny sexy touchy-feely Tory party on stuff.

He says, 'I'll shake hands with the devil on my left and the devil on my right to get to where we have need to be'.

Thing is, when you shake hands and do deals with the devil, the devil tends to have his price, and he makes sure that he wins.

The Tories have seen the cred that the Blair and the G8 got from rubbing shoulders with Geldof and garnering his praise even when they reinforced the systems of poverty the G8 preside over. Unsurprisingly, the Tories would like a bit of that.

After their decade of unelectable slapheads, here is someone who can possibly give the Conservatives an effective rebrand. As well as hiring Bob Geldof, they've got The Ecologist's editor Zac Goldsmith on board for their environmental overhaul.

As Jim Bliss has said, with the big environmental issues like climate change and the energy crisis, there is nothing the government can do about it so they are ideal opposition party issues. The Conservatives can say they'd do it all better and be oh so green and brandish Goldsmith and his top tips as evidence of it.

But it's all just like the way Cadillac offered to let members of The Doors have personal input into the development and promotion of fuel efficient hybrid cars if the band would let Break On Through be used in a new TV ad for Cadillac SUVs. It's not about getting any development of the fuel efficient cars, it's a way to get what they want in order to sell loads of the gas guzzlers.

In finding out from Geldof and Goldsmith what to say in order to appear righteous, the Tories will give themselves the kudos they need to regain power and funnel wealth to the rich.

Cameron talks about people wanting 'prosperity for themselves and progress for the poor'. Thing is, the progress for us is largely predicated on the poverty of the poor; it's one versus the other. No prizes for guessing which side Cameron's on in that fight.

Nor is there any whiff of criticism from the Tories about the conditions put on the G8's debt 'relief'. The Tories, like the G8, exist to continue and consolidate rather than confront the power of the rich.

In accepting his position with them, Geldof presumes that the Tories are changeable into a force for global economic and social justice. This presumption also lay behind the G8 lobbying in the summer. These rulers are somehow going to voluntarily give up their sources of power if we only ask nicely. If we tell them of the horrors, they will agree it's bad and make the necessary changes.

Do we really think that they would change what they do if only they knew the effects? That they don't already know full well what they're doing?

With the stark contrast between what the G8 deal meant and what Geldof said about it, many started to ask what he was doing.

With customary incisiveness, George Monbiot wrote a piece on Geldof called The Man Who Betrayed The Poor.

He rightly drew attention to the fact that the G8 fucked the poor nations over, that many of the Make Poverty History organisations said as much, and yet Geldof says it was all great. 'On aid, 10 out of 10; on debt, eight out of 10 - Mission accomplished frankly'

But Monbiot's reason for Geldof's betrayal never sat right with me: 'by ensuring that the campaign was as much about him as about Africa, he ensured that if they failed, he failed. He needed a story with a happy ending'.

Sure, Geldof clearly has an ego the size of a cricket pitch, but it's equally clear that he doesn't do this stuff just for his own personal glory. He's not got any long term goals riding on the success of Live8, and as anyone who's read Is That It? knows, he's robust enought to handle failure.

But what else could there be? He's not so stupid as to believe aid conditionality is benevolent, he undoubtedly did want to say there was a happy ending despite knowing it wasn't the case.

A recent BBC TV documentary showed behind the scenes footage of the organisation of Live8. Two days before the concerts, word reached Geldof that the summit wasn't in fact going to be benevolent. Up to his ears in sorting out where Mariah Carey and Pink Floyd were going to be in the running order, he didn't have time to speak out. Curiously, nor did he want to.

He said (I may be paraphrasing slightly) that you have to make the people who supported the campaign feel like they'd had success, or else you create a generation of cynics.

Firstly, the people who turned up at Live8 weren't really trying to change anything. They were going to a gig.

But turning to the real issues, the G8 is not about solving world poverty or handing out real charity, let alone justice. It is about consolidating and expanding its own power. It is about increasing the scope and depth of global inequality and injustice.

If Geldof had said, 'the summit was a bag of shit. These people are never going to relinquish their power easily. They use poverty to keep themselves rich,' it would certainly have made those who put hope in Make Poverty History feel let down by the G8. It would encourage them to take power back, to seek the more radical solutions that are the only way poverty will ever be made history. Centralised power of the rich is not a mechanism for equality, it is an obstacle to it.

What of those people who - in their millions thanks to the efforts of Make Poverty History - have a good working knowledge of trade barriers, international debt and the other devices and methods the rich nations use to make the poor suffer? Those people who saw the conditionality and knew the deals were a stitch up; how cynical will they get seeing Geldof praise the things that do not make poverty history but make poverty worse? Those people - newly awakened to the issues, keen to make a difference, ready to devote serious effort - are being told that it's all fine, shut up and go back home.

Seeing someone with no party allegiance, with experience, insight and credibility, go and knowingly lie and praise the machinery of poverty; that will breed cynics on a scale far beyond anything caused by telling the truth.

Such momentum is being made to fizzle and die because, what, it's a bigger job than we thought? Let's allow the rape and robbery of the majority of humanity to continue for our material benefit cos, what, it'll take real commitment and sacrifice and we don't know if we'll succeed?

You see the most monumental injustice ever perpetrated. You see who's pushing it. You see millions wanting to turn it around. But you're told that it's gonna take more than a few weeks of asking nicely, so in fact there's not actually a problem at all. How cynical will that make you?

To treat all those well-informed people as being too stupid to realise what the deal meant betrays them, their intelligence and their potential.

But more and worse, it betrays those who will continue to be the victims of the globalisation Geldof has reinforced and, in handing himself over as a marketing tool of the Tories, continues to reinforce.


Martin said...

Lovely lovely blog. Nice thinking and a good read too!

Anonymous said...

Just read this bit about Monbiot and Geldof. Nice analysis, mate.

I was jumped all over in the Leeds Common Place list when I dared to defend Geldof at the time. I was as disappointed as the next guy with the results of Live8 / Make Poverty History (the latter of which I think the WDM might be about to distance themselves from...?) but I don't think Geldof set out to screw anyone over. I think his heart is basically in the right place, and Live Aid (and to some extent Live8) raised important stuff to mass attention level: a Good Thing.

Yes he's a plonker in getting involved with the Tories - but then Monbiot came out in favour of nuclear power, so go figure... :-(

merrick said...

Mal, Whilst Geldof certainly does has his initial motivation in the right place, he's also bright enough to know the effect of what he does, and well informed enough to know he's lying, which is unforgivable.

Monbiot in favour of nukes? I missed that one. I've read a bunch of stuff here he's against it. Have you got a reference or a link for this?

Anonymous said...

aid conditionality is a bad thing if you are giving aid to a responsible, reasonably democratic, government such as perhaps India or Ghana.

aid conditionality (or direct distribution) is a good thing if you are giving aid to the people of North Korea or Zimbabwe - you can't just transfer funds to the fiscus because it will not go where you want it to.

merrick said...


aid conditionality is a bad thing whoever you give it to if your conditions are stuff that's about opening up their markets for our capital to 'invest' in and thereby siphon the wealth from the country.