Mark Thomas asks what is the point of Band Aid

The trouble with Band Aid is that you can buy the single, think you have done your bit and walk away

You could be forgiven for believing that the human race is doomed. The list of omens seems endless: Bush is re-elected; John Peel is dead; Ariel Sharon asks whether any other leader had so much blood on his hands as Yasser Arafat. Yet for some reason we insist on believing that it is only the US which has no sense of irony. A gunfight breaks out at Arafat's wake - which I can't help but think is what he would have wanted - and, frankly, none of us would have been that surprised if Israel had bombed the Ramallah compound during the funeral, just for old times' sake.

Then Iyad Allawi claims that there have been no civilian casualties in Fallujah. And US marines are filmed killing unarmed wounded men, which might as well be broadcast with a voice-over asking: "Have you ever considered a career in al-Qaeda? Dial this 0800 number and ask for Osama."

On top of all this, Band Aid is re-releasing "Do They Know It's Christmas?".

To this, incidentally, the answer is: of course they know it's Christmas! Do you honestly believe the entire continent of Africa goes to work on 25 December thinking: "Hang on, I've got a funny feeling the rest of the world is having a day off."

Yes, they know it's Christmas. If they didn't, it would be the biggest conspiracy in the world. Everyone visiting any part of Africa would be told at customs: "Whatever you do, don't mention Santa." Tinsel would have to be banned, carols would never be sung and the millions who are African Christians would be sitting around with censored copies of the Bible asking: "Does anyone know when Jesus was born?"

If the future of Africa lies with Will Young and Rachel Stevens, then Africa is fucked. If bands such as The Darkness want to help, then I suggest we drop the entire band, in full performance mode, into the centre of Darfur. The sight of high-pitched Spandex wearers appearing in front of them might just confuse, worry and frighten the Janjaweed militias long enough to delay their genocidal onslaught by a few hours.

And yes, dear reader, you are right, I am a begrudging, cynical bastard.

You would be right to say that some of Band Aid's musicians are politically astute and involved in the issues. Not many of them, mind you, though Damon Albarn has put his money where his mouth is on numerous occasions during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and Bob Geldof and Bono know more about debt and poverty in the developing world than most MPs (on reflection, this doesn't sound like the compliment I intended it to be . . . but you get the point). And, yes, the money raised from the single will help some people.

However, you would have to be very naive to believe that a single could change an entire continent's well-being. If it could, Nelson Mandela wouldn't have bothered with the armed struggle against apartheid - he would have spent his time practising "Stairway to Heaven" in his bedroom.

The trouble with Band Aid is that you can buy the single, believe you have done your bit, and walk away none the wiser as to the causes of and solutions to poverty in the developing world.

Indeed, one radio station has been inundated with listeners requesting that the station not play it; but the station still urges the public to go and buy it.

So, Band Aid II works entirely as a nostalgia charity product. It is the triumph of style and marketing over content - all in all, the perfect gift in the new Labour household.

It has been illegal for business folk to bribe people in the UK for centuries, but it only became illegal for UK businesses to bribe foreign government officials in 2002. Given that fact, Patricia Hewitt at the DTI should have been champing at the bit to introduce effective anti-bribery practices at the Export Credits Guarantee Department. After all, the ECGD uses public money to underwrite arms deals to developing nations, an area of business renowned for its corruption.

However, according to the Guardian, in a buried report, Patty has bowed to pressure from lobbyists to water down the proposals. Indeed, the chief lobbyist responsible for this dilution is said to be Airbus.

That wouldn't be the Airbus that gets the wings for its aircraft made by BAE Systems, would it? Nor the Airbus that is 20 per cent owned by BAE Systems? And that wouldn't be the BAE Systems that got caught depositing money into an offshore account in Jersey for a high-ranking Qatar government official during an arms deal? Nor the BAE Systems accused of paying Prince Turki bin Nasser, of Saudi Arabian defence procurement fame, £60m-worth in kickbacks? Nor the BAE Systems questioned over the high agents' fees in its arms deal with South Africa?

No it can't be, as then it would look as if Patty's department was influenced by one of Britain's biggest bribers.

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