Brendan O’Neill has an interesting article on spiked about the ‘People’s Republic of Bono’, where he argues that the pop star’s influence at the G8 was so profound that he can almost he considered the 9th power of the G8. He is quite right to ridicule and criticise the loathsome Bono for his arrogant claim to represent the people of Africa and pontificate like the ninth power of the G8 and to highlight the way Bono’s ability to do these things reflects on the state of contemporary politics.
However, what I found most interesting about Bono’s reaction to the G8 is an interview he and the equally loathsome Bob Geldof gave to BBC News 24 at the conclusion of the summit last Friday, in which they expressed their total dismay at their failure to wield any influence at all. Geldof was the most explicit, saying that the G8 should have “stayed at home” and that he now believed that “this global governance stuff is bullshit”. They openly conveyed a bitter sense of profound disillusionment about their own power.
This is, I think, the more important point to take away from the G8 summit, Live8, Make Poverty History (which itself seems to have been made history), and all that. When political activism is as singular, symbolic, and superficial as a series of pop concerts and the sale of white wristbands, political leaders need only make gestures designed to defuse this temporary sentiment. People like Bono, and the NGOs they ally themselves with, are far more dependent on politicians than vice-versa, since in the absence of a sustained mass movement they actually represent no one, and must be invited into the corridors of power by those who actually control access to them. As the pressure ebbs away, the figures can be massaged and promises can be reneged upon.
This was a key test case for what we are repeatedly told is a new, exciting and effective form of politics – the single-issue campaign spearheaded by unrepresentative forces like celebrities and NGOs. For all last year’s fanfare around Live8, Geldof’s verdict is final: it’s bullshit.