U2 has a new album coming out in November (Brendan Creecy reviews the single “Vertigo” here, Damon Muma here), was just nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Bono has other things besides music on his mind – he spoke at the UK Labour Party Conference yesterday:
- Thank you.
My name is Bono and I’m a rock star. Brighton – rock – star.
Excuse me if I appear a little nervous. I’m not used to appearing before crowds of less than 80,000 people.
I heard the word party – obviously got the wrong idea.
I’ve been here in Brighton before…
March 13, 1983.
That time I had the greatest rock band on the stage behind me, they looked a little different from you. I think I was climbing the PA stacks, waving a white flag… and yes, I had a mullet from the 80s.
We played a song called ‘Out of Control’, and yes sometimes I am!
It must have been at that point when a young Tony Blair stroked his chin and said, ‘Someday, when I come to lead this great land, I must have this man address my party conference.’
Well, 20 years later, here we are. I’ve come because Prime Minister Blair asked me.
He might well regret it.
In the larger sense, I’m here as part of a journey that began in 1984-85, with BandAid and LiveAid.
Another very talll, grizzled rock star, my friend Sir Bob Geldof, issued a challenge to ‘feed the world.’
It was a great moment, it changed my life.
That summer, my wife Ali and I went to Ethiopia, on the quiet, to see for ourselves what was going on.
We lived there for a month, working at an orphanage.
The locals knew me as
‘Dr Good Morning’.
The children called me
‘The Girl with the Beard’.
But let me say this – Africa is a magical place. And anybody who ever gave anything there got a lot more back. A shining shining continent, with beautiful royal faces… Ethiopia not just blew my mind, it opened my mind.
On our last day at the orphanage a man handed me his baby and said: take him with you. He knew in Ireland his son would live; in Ethiopia his son would die. I turned him down.
In that moment, I started this journey. In that moment, I became the worst thing of all: a rock star with a cause.
Except this isn’t a cause. 6,500 Africans dying a day of treatable, preventable disease-dying for want of medicines you and I can get at our local chemist-that’s not a cause, that’s an emergency.
That’s why I’m here today.
You know, I could make the soft argument for action-or I could make the more muscular one.
The soft argument you’ve all heard before. People are dying over there, needlessly dying, at a ridiculous rate and for the stupidest of reasons: money.
They’re dying because they don’t have a pound a day to pay for the drugs that could save their lives.
Pound or Euro, they really don’t care.
There are hard facts that make up the soft argument.
This soft, moral case I know you understand.
And if you’re already converted, you don’t need me preaching at you. Though I must admit enjoy it.
So let me make the other, more muscular argument.
I know you can take it.
You’re Labour, aren’t you?
You’re tough. Keir Hardie was a tough guy, wasn’t he?, down the pits at the age of 11.
Clement Attlee was tough, right: fought in the Great War, worked in the slums.
Blair, Brown, they’re tough guys. The Labour Party has never been a garden party, has it. I mean the reddest of roses has thorns.
Let’s get real here on a couple of things – let’s get to some uncomfortable truths.
Let’s be clear about what this problem is and what this problem isn’t.
Firstly, this is not about charity, it’s about justice.
Let me repeat that:
This is not about charity, this is about justice.
And that’s too bad.
Because you’re good at charity. The British, like the Irish, are good at it. Even the poorest neighbourhoods give more than they can afford.
We like to give, and we give a lot. But justice is a tougher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.
Because there’s no way we can look at Africa- a continent bursting into flames -and if we’re honest conclude that it would ever be allowed to happen anywhere else.
Certainly not here.
Or Australia, or Canada.
There’s just no chance.
You see, deep down, if we really accepted that Africans were equal to us, we would all do more to put the fire out.
We’ve got watering cans; when what we really need are the fire brigades.
That’s the first tough truth.
The second is that to fight AIDS, and its root cause, the extreme poverty in which it thrives, it’s not just development policy. It’s a security strategy.
The war against terror is bound up in the war against poverty, I didn’t say that, Colin Powell said that. And when a military man from the right starts talking like that maybe we should listen!
Because maybe, today, these are one and the same.
People get nervous when I talk like this. I get nervous when I talk like this. But in these distressing and disturbing times, surely it’s cheaper, and smarter, to make friends out of potential enemies than it is to defend yourself against them.
Can I just say that again?
Surely it’s cheaper, and smarter, to make friends out of potential enemies than it is to defend yourself against them.
Africa is not the frontline on the war against terror. But it could be soon. Justice is the surest way to get to peace.
So how are we doing, on this other war, that will affect so many many more lives than the war I read about every day.
Well, I’m going to tell you what I think, but you’re probably better off asking an economist.
An African farmer.
In fact, anyone but a rock star. I mean, get yourself a source you can trust-one who, say when he hears the word ‘drugs,’ probably thinks ‘life-saving,’ rather than ‘mind-altering.’
Let’s just say that when the government sends a fact-finding mission somewhere in the world, there’s probably a good reason they don’t send a delegation of rock stars.
But actually, I can see through these goggles. I know progress when I see it. And I know forward momentum when I feel it.
And I do feel it.
There is a lot for Britain to get excited about.
And with that in mind, I want to say a few words about two remarkable men.
Like a lot of great partners, they didn’t always get along as the years passed.
They didn’t always agree. They drifted apart.
They did incredible things on their own, as individuals.
But they did their best work as a pair.
I love them both:
John Lennon… and
I’m also fond of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They are kind of the John and Paul of the global development stage, in my opinion. But the point is, Lennon and McCartney changed my interior world – Blair and Brown can change the Real World.
And that’s why I’m here.
You know as transcendent as I’d like to think a U2 show can be, it isn’t life or death. This is. And I’ve met people whose lives will depend on the decisions taken by these two great men. They have great ideas. And the promises they have already made will save hundreds of thousands of lives — if they follow through, and you don’t let them forget who they are.
Don’t let them forget who they are, promise me that, conference.
Growing up in Dublin in the Seventies, I didn’t think much of politics, and I thought even less of politicians. I had no idea they worked as hard as they do. I had no idea what it takes to make good on your ideals.
Hillary Benn is doing a great job, with big shoes to fill. I’d like to thank Clare Short, for letting me in.
The Chancellor’s spending review showed me this is a serious moment in time.
And the IFF, what a brilliant idea.
The Prime Minister’s Africa Commission. This can be a radical landmark – like the Brandt report – certainly if Bob Geldof has his way, and it’s hard not to give him his way. The Irish don’t you love them.
Anyway, what I’m telling you is 2005, when Britain takes the reins of the G-8 and EU, this is it. And if we don’t get there in 2005 — if we don’t get there in 2005 — I know where these people park their cars.
Listen, this is a real moment coming up, this could be real history, this could be something that your children, your childrens children, that our whole generation, will be remembered for at the beginning of the 21st century.
Putting right a relationship that has been so very wrong for so very long.
The North, the South, the Have Nots, the have yachts.
Britain is in a unique position here. I know you’ve got a chequered past. I’m Irish, let’s not go there. Forget the plundering of Empire, I wont even bring it up..
You have real relationships in these places – real relationships-right across the developing world.
You could be the interface – there’s a 21st century thought for you,
– interface –
as opposed to just-in-your-face -between the worlds of the haves and the-have-nothing-at alls.
But Empire aside, we have to accept that even people with short memories are not sure they like the look of us.
In certain quarters of the world, Brand UK, Brand EU not to mention Brand USA-are not their shiniest.
They’re in real trouble.
The neon sign is fizzing and crackling a bit, isn’t it?
The storefront’s a little grubby. Our regional branch managers are getting nervous.
Let’s cut the crap.
The problems facing the developing world afford us in the developed world a chance to redescribe ourselves in very dangerous times.
This is not just heart – it’s smart.
Onerous debt burdens,
decreasing aid levels,
duplicitious trade rules,
no wonder people are pissed off with us.
Listen, I know what this looks like, rock star standing up here, shouting imperatives others have to fulfill. But that’s what we do, rock stars. Rock stars get to wave flags, shout at the barricades, and escape to the South of France. We’re unaccountable.
We behave accordingly.
But not you.
You can’t do that.
See, we’re actually counting on you.
Politicians have to make the fight, do the work, and get judged by the results.
The weight of expectation is a heavy burden. Hang it on a rock band and that’s usually when they make a crap album.
The weight of history is so heavy. It’s a huge responsibility to be the repository of people’s dreams, to be their hope for the future.
So Tony.. Gordon..
I don’t envy you.
Because there’s a lot of work to do.
There is progress, but it’s incremental. History never notices that, and the lives that are depending on it don’t deserve the wait.
You know we made a promise to half poverty by the year 2015 – a big millennium promise – but we’re not even going to make it by 2115.
It’s not enough to describe Everest, we’ve got climb it and we’ve got to bring everyone else along.
Junichiro – they’ve all got to come up the hill.
Because this is the big year, 2005. All of you have to double aid, double it’s effectiveness, and double trouble for corrupt leaders.
The G8 – people look at these meetings and wonder whether they ever achieve anything.
I stood in Cologne, with how many thousands of people. We got that announcement on debt cancellation which now means that three times as many children in Uganda are going to school.
Finish what you started in Cologne. Thank you for last weekend, Gordon.
Our badge of shame.
We in the rich countries shuffle the poorest into a backroom, tie their hands and feet with our conditionalities and then use our subsidies to deliver the final blow.
We have to reform the CAP, and we have to let democratically elected governments — not the IMF, not the World Bank, not the WTO, not the EU — decide what policies work best.
We can’t fix every problem, but the ones we can we must.
But it’s going to cost you. Justice, equality, these ideas aren’t cheap.
They’re expensive – I know that.
And while I’m sure you care about education in Africa, I know you also care about schools at home. You care about AIDS clinics in Africa, but there’s a hospital right down the road you’re not sure you can get in.
These are hard choices.
And I’m probably the wrong person to ask you to make them.
And I know that on certain issues this room is already divided. I know many people – and I include myself – were very unhappy about the war in Iraq. Still are. But ending extreme poverty, disease and despair- this is one thing everybody can agree on.
These efforts can be a force not only for progress but for unity – not only in Labour but around the world.
Can you take this from a rockstar, ‘All You Need is Love’ when all you need are groceries.
Now you know why Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are really excited that U2’s got a new album coming out – why?
Because I’ll be away on tour next year.
But even from a tour bus I can be a pain in the arse. That’s my job.
And I’ve got some very interesting friends, there’s as many of them in mothers unions as trade unions.
It’s not just purple Mohawks we’ve got going, it’s blue rinses.
It’s the Temperance League of Tunbridge Wells.
The Wigan Bowling Society.
The Chipping Camden Ladies Cricket Club.
OK, I’m made those up. But don’t mess with us.
As I say, next year, 2005, Great Britain is on the door at the EU and G-8. So this is the time to unlock something really big.
Earlier I described the deaths of 6,500 Africans a day from a preventable treatable disease like aids: I watched people queuing up to die, three in a bed in Malawi.
That’s Africa’s crisis. But the fact that we in Europe or America are not treating it like an emergency-and the fact that its not every day on the news, well that is our crisis.
And that’s not horseshit, that’s something much worse, I don’t even know what that says about us. There will be books written.
Think about it. Think about who you are, who you’ve been, who you want to be.
I don’t care if you are Old Labour or New Labour, what is your party about if it’s not about this – if it’s not about equality, about justice, the right to make a living, the right to go on living?
Simply agreeing with us is not enough.
If Britain can’t turn its values into action against extreme, stupid poverty… if this rich country, with the reins in its hands, can’t lead other countries along this path to equality, then the critics tomorrow will be right:
I am Tony Blair’s apologist. The rock star pulled out of the hat at the Labour Party Conference.
I’ve more faith in the room than that. I’ve more faith in your leaders than that. I don’t need to have. I’m an Irish rockstar. It looks much better on me to slag you off.
But let me say this again. For the last time.
We’re serious, this is gigantic. This stuff is the real reason to be in politics, to go door to door, to organise and demonstrate and take bold action. It’s every bit as noble as your grandparents fighting the Nazis.
This is not about ‘doing our best.’
It’s win or lose.
Life or death.
If I could ask you to think a hundred years ahead, to imagine what we, and our times, will be remembered for, I would venture three things:
the war on terror,
and the fate of the continent of Africa.
We are the first generation that can look extreme and stupid poverty in the eye, look across the water to Africa and elsewhere and say this and mean it:
we have the cash,
we have the drugs,
we have the science — but do we have the will?
Do we have the will to make poverty history?
Some say we can’t afford to.
I say we can’t afford not to.
He’s right about Africa: if we don’t address the world’s problems, the world’s problems will address us, and that’s just the practical side of the coin.