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18 July 2005

They came, they talked, they left. For what?

G8 - Geldof asked for perspective and then gave the G8 full marks on aid. Come off it

By Mark Thomas

It is time for Bob Geldof to fuck off. Yes, he did organise Live 8. Yes, this has helped raise global awareness of the impoverishment of Africa. Job done. Thumbs up. Fuck off. He said he wouldn’t mind going to the House of Lords, so send him; shove him next to Birt and Thatcher, where his brown-nosing of new Labour will be lost in the sea of vicious ermine. I don’t care how he goes: put him in the Big Brother house; fire him at a passing meteor to see what is inside it; just go. We might even consider buying old Boomtown Rats records by the bucket-load, forcing him to tour with them for ever: painful but worth it.

Come the final press conference at Gleneagles, the lives Geldof saved were the immediate political lives of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Geldof’s tactics were to align his cause closely to the “Lennon and McCartney” of politics. So close was his proximity to Brown that he was in danger of breaking Blunkett’s no-sex- in-a-public-place law. Inevitably at that press conference, which was the moment where the campaigners judged what the G8 had done, Geldof opted to support Brown and Blair.

New Labour desperately wanted to spin the G8 as a triumph. John Hilary of War on Want witnessed the arm-twisting and intimidation of individuals working for NGOs, which nearly turned into physical violence backstage at the press conference, as the pressure to get a successful public announcement began to tell on Blair’s special adviser Justin Forsyth. Who could save new Labour from a tide of campaigners’ disdain? Bob could.

Kumi Naidoo, from the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, spoke before Geldof at the press conference. “This week, the world has roared and the G8 has responded with a whisper,” he said. A South African, Naidoo had consulted many of the groups that form the coalition he represents. Geldof branded his comments a “disgrace”. “Perspective, please,” said Bob, the man who urged anyone with a dinghy to sail across the Channel and pick up French strangers who have no idea of how to use a train. Obviously Bob is as much aware of perspective as he is of irony.

So how did the G8 do? Well, new Labour juggles figures and double-accounts in a style that would have Robert Maxwell’s ghost applauding from the pits of hell. Aid to Africa was to increase by $48bn, according to G8 statements, but $28bn is old money already pledged. Make Poverty History calculates that the new aid money is perhaps $20bn; other NGOs think it is even less. Campaigners were asking for aid to be increased to 0.7 per cent of national income. The G8 countries came up with about one-fifth of the money needed to get them to that level. Yet Bob awarded the government ten out of ten and would brook no dissent.

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On debt, the G8 added nothing new to the existing pledge to grant 100 per cent debt relief to 18 nations. It is great news that the principle of 100 per cent debt relief has been established; there is, however, a downside. While 18 countries are going to get it now, there are still 42 other countries that need it. And cancellation comes with a price: “conditionality”, the opening up of markets and privatisation, probably of water and healthcare. How can African states decide their future if the economic terms are dictated to them? Yet the numerically challenged Bob gave them eight out of ten on debt.

On trade, the G8 couldn’t even decide a date to start abolishing their subsidies for sugar or beef, which undermine African farmers and leading to dumping on African markets. Once again, trade liberalisation was the order of the day and once again the G8 flunked the Africa test.

For some, fighting corruption in Africa is as important as aid. However, all the G8 served up was a few platitudes that African leaders must stop being corrupt. Which is fair enough: when it comes to corrupt leaders, Africa has boasted some of the most flamboyant and outstanding examples in the world. But it might help if the G8 nations, the IMF and the World Bank actually pursued and punished the multinationals that do the bribing, instead of giving them financial support.

On the arms trade, not even a crumb of comfort. The proposed International Arms Trade Treaty died quietly in the corner.

We were, however, supposed to take hope because George W Bush has said human activity is part of the cause of climate change? Who else did he think was responsible? The plants?

The G8 didn’t deliver a fraction of what was called for. So it is no wonder, when Geldof uttered his infamous “ten out of ten” verdict, that a journalist present was heard to utter: “Blimey, have they got his kids locked in a cellar or something?”

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