John and Paul?

1 October 2004

Bono Wows Labour Party Conference

The Brits still do party conferences that are not fully scripted bs-athons that American political conventions have become. Oh these days, there is a bit of care given to things like podium décor and other visuals aids for the TV cameras. Yet, Labour’s annual meeting in Brighton (which is a rather Tory place, frankly) was far more watchable than the Boston and New York tedium the GOP and Democrats provided a few weeks ago. For one thing, there was actually a vote on an issue. For another, U2’s Bono showed up not to sing, but to preach. He wasn’t half bad, but he should keep the day job as a rock star.

The British political parties all discuss policy at their meetings, and there are disagreements among various factions. As a result, there remains a tolerance within the party for diverse views. Party loyalty means not letting the party do something stupid even if the leadership insists. Thus it was that there was actually a vote on bringing British troops home from Iraq. It was crushed, but can one imagine either American party actually letting such a challenge to the leadership come to a vote? Yet, conflict is what makes for a story, as any writer of even the worst fiction knows. No conflict, no story – no story, no viewers.

However, the American political parties managed to find time for Citizen Bono (christened Paul Hewson if one cares about such things) to address them as a feeble nod toward having something other than the military service of the president and the senator to discuss. So, Mr. Blair invited the Irishman to speak to the Labour faithful. Most of the time, suspicions about the general stupidity of artists and the shallowness on their views outside their chosen milieu are well-founded. Citizen Bono is not one of these. He has done his homework on Africa, poverty and development – including a month’s labor in an Africa AIDS hospital.

Beginning by noting he may be the wrong messenger (“the worst thing of all, a rock star with a cause”), Citizen Bono told Labour to “get real” about fighting global poverty. He managed to compliment and challenge in a single breath – “I'm fond of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They are kind of the John and Paul of the global development stage. But the point is, Lennon and McCartney changed my interior world - Blair and Brown can change the real world.” The BBC’s camera showed that Mr. Blair was clearly in love, Mr. Brown in like, at least. Then, he added “And the promises they have made will save hundreds of thousands of lives - if they follow through.” Lord, “if” can be the biggest word in all of politics. He even said, “Bollocks” and “pain in the arse,” the latter referring to himself.

And then, the multi-millionaire rock star said, “The West has a vested security interest in combating the poverty of Africa and its related problems. To fight AIDS, and its root cause, the extreme poverty in which it thrives, it's not just a development strategy. This has to be a security strategy. The war against terror is bound up in the war against poverty. I didn't say that; Colin Powell did.” One doesn’t have the heart to say America has fought a “War on Poverty” – in those very words – since the 1960s, and for the most part poverty has won. And maybe after decades of independence, perhaps Africans like Robert Mugabe share some of the blame.

Brighton, though, doesn’t mean anywhere near as much to Mr. Blair as Hartlepool, a town of 88,000 where the government was fighting a by-election yesterday to retain a seat held by Peter Mandelson, who left the House of Commons to be Britain's new European Commissioner. While Labour kept its seat, the Liberal-Democrats cut the majority from almost 13,000 to just over 2,000, and the UK Independence Party finished third. The Tory Party, which backed the war in Iraq, may recover from its fourth place showing in the general election, but Mr. Blair may face the Liberals, who opposed his war, as the official opposition. News now that Mr. Blair has minor heart surgery today makes it all the more interesting -- in the Chinese sense of the word.

© Copyright 2004 by The Kensington Review, J. Myhre, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent.