Geldof may feel he alone put poverty on the global agenda, but I stand by my comments in tomorrow's Starsuckers documentary
guardian.co.uk, Monday 5 April 2010 14.13 BST
Never one to mince his words, Sir Bob Geldof has launched his latest expletive-ridden broadside at the documentary Starsuckers, due to be broadcast tomorrow night on More 4.
In the film, Geldof is accused of undermining the Make Poverty History campaign's attempts to hold G8 leaders to account for the scandal of global poverty. By contrast, Saint Bob now claims that he alone should be credited with putting issues of world poverty on the political agenda, and not the millions of ordinary people who take action on such issues year on year.
I am one of the two senior executives from the Make Poverty History coalition interviewed in Starsuckers, and I understand that I am also named by Geldof in the letter of complaint he has sent to the film's director, Chris Atkins. Let me say from the outset that I stand by what I said in the film. Like many others, I believe that Geldof's involvement in the mobilisations around the G8 undid much of the good work that had been built up over a period of months by people up and down Britain, not to mention the years of campaigning undertaken on these issues by civil society groups across the world.
The Make Poverty History coalition of more than 100 campaign organisations, faith groups and trade unions was formed in recognition of the special opportunity offered by the UK hosting both the EU presidency and the G8 summit of world leaders in 2005. The coalition put together a manifesto that called for a new approach to global poverty based on justice, not charity. We spent months building nationwide support for political action to tackle issues of trade justice, corporate accountability and debt relief, in an attempt to move the debate on from focusing solely on overseas aid. Over the year, many millions of people joined in the campaign.
Although a number of celebrities gave their backing to Make Poverty History, Geldof was not involved with the campaign. News that he was planning a follow-up event to his 1985 Live Aid concerts was kept secret, and we only discovered late in the day that he had chosen to hold the event on the same date as the main Make Poverty History demonstration in Edinburgh had already been planned, just prior to the start of the G8 summit itself.
A quarter of a million people took to the streets of Edinburgh on Saturday 2 July, and tens of thousands stayed for the other events that took place in the lead-up to the G8 summit in Gleneagles the following Wednesday. As predicted, the celebrity-charged Live 8 concerts took away the great majority of the media coverage we had hoped to achieve for the Edinburgh demonstration and its political aims. While others criticised Geldof for failing to feature any African musicians at the main concert in Hyde Park, our main concern was that the challenge to the G8 was completely subsumed in the glitz and glamour of a pop event.
Worse was to come at the final press conference that concluded the G8 summit in Gleneagles. The South African activist Kumi Naidoo acted as spokesperson for Make Poverty History at the press conference, giving the coalition's verdict that: "The world has roared, but the G8 has responded with a whisper."
Geldof turned on Naidoo in front of the assembled media, attacking his statement as "a disgrace" and defending Tony Blair, George Bush and the other G8 leaders for saving millions of African lives. African civil society representatives who had travelled to Gleneagles for the summit went on television afterwards to make public statements dissociating themselves from Geldof's remarks.
The Make Poverty History campaign was not perfect, and many of us have been candid about its shortcomings. Yet Geldof's arrogance is simply in a different league. To suggest that he alone was responsible for creating a mass movement on global poverty is a direct insult to the millions of people around the world who have worked steadfastly for debt cancellation, trade justice, women's rights, workers' rights and environmental sustainability over decades.