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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Rat trap?

In the end I did not go to the Bob Geldof event at the Hay Festival. It was not that I was trying to avoid him but I had tickets for a clashing event. Nevertheless, his Live8 event and the million protestors descending on Edinburgh idea do seem to be entering choppy waters.

Geldof's defence of his position in the wake of criticism by DJ Andy Kershaw at the absence of black musicians at events staged to benefit Africans is bizarre. He apparently told The Independent on Sunday that he had to concentrate on names known in G8 countries to pile on political pressure. Geldof seems to be losing touch with reality here.

His Live Aid concerts had impact because they raised awareness amongst the public and pulled in a lot of money to carry out practical improvements. If they had changed things politically then he would not now be pressing a million concerned citizens to march on the Scottish capital. Similarly, the Live8 events will also raise awareness and they will ensure that the issue of aid is one that politicians take note of. Yet, this matter was already on the agenda for G8 and it has all the political clout it is going to get there.

Rather importantly, none of these events is going to move the United States in its position on aid and, let's face it, when it comes to the next General Election very few of those protesting now and attending these concerts will change their vote because of this issue. That does not mean that the events and the protests are futile, they are not.

The concerts can be a showcase for European and African talent and they will succeed in putting poverty and the response of the developed world to it high in most people's consciousness. They will succeed not because the artists are known to out-of-touch middle aged white politicians, but because the event itself will strike a chord with ordinary people. It is for that reason that Geldof's insistence on "known names" and an almost exclusively white line-up is dangerous nonsense.

The 'long march to freedom' on July 6th is also worth doing despite the threat by anarchist groups to hi-jack it. Ordinary people very rarely turn up for these sort of protests. It is when they do, such as with the Countryside Alliance and the first anti-Iraq war demonstrations, that politicians feel that they have to take notice. A million people in Edinburgh will give Gordon Brown a tiny bit more credibility in arguing his position at G8 even if the demonstration itself does not prove decisive in getting everything that its organisers want from the summit.

Clare Short was rather interesting on this subject at Hay yesterday. She argued that a compromise deal will be struck that will be spun as a great victory for people power by Gordon Brown and his allies. In reality though the ground gained will be minimal and a lot of work will be left undone. She was sceptical as to whether Gleneagles could produce anything like the scale of response that Africa really needs.
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