Saturday, October 10, 2009


To encounter Bono at one party conference might be construed a misfortune.
To be subjected to a Save The Third World sermon by this runty rock squillionaire at both Labour and Conservative party conferences was enough to make a reasonable man come over all Pete Townsendish and want to snap Bono's guitar in two.
What is it about this whiny little Dubliner that makes one's gorge rise?
What is it that makes him feel he can lecture the rest of us about how to spend our tax money, while he himself leads a life of near-unimaginable wealth?
Has he ever been elected? No. Is he particularly eloquent? Nope. He just happens to be exceedingly rich. And famous.
And convinced that he is a figure who can transcend politics and somehow shame us into accepting higher taxes. Because pop singer Bono said so.
Surely one of the greatest of life's impenetrable mysteries is just why politicians of all hues and on both sides of the globe bow to this little Irishman.
From George W. Bush and Obama to Nelson Mandela and the UN's chief Ban Kimoon, they all swoon at St Bono.
Last week he spoke to the Labour party conference, appearing in a film clip to say what a great bloke Gordon Brown was.
Only a few weeks ago he awarded our bungling PM the 'World Statesman of the Year' prize, God help us.
Then, this Thursday, to the Conservatives' eternal discredit, the same trendy-haired, wheedly-voiced Bono popped up on two vast plasma screens at the Tory conference, shortly before David Cameron's speech.
Who was this scruffy little man? What was his name again? Mr Bonio? Some of the more ancient ones plainly hadn't a clue as to who he was. And they wondered why he was not wearing a tie
When he did his turn for the Labour conference, there were whoops of joy.
When this ageing hipster droned on in mind-numbing platitudes about how we should all donate our hard-earned cash to distant dictatorships, there were two slightly differing reactions.
From the professional sceptics of the media there was a near-universal groan. Hands slapped against despairing foreheads.
From the seats of Tory activists, meanwhile, there wafted an air of widespread indifference, if not bafflement.
Who was this scruffy little man? What was his name again? Mr Bonio?
Some of the more ancient ones plainly hadn't a clue as to who he was. And they wondered why he was not wearing a tie.
Ah, the good old Tory faithful. Maybe there is hope yet for this kingdom of ours.

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Bono is a prime example of baby-boomer good vibes - of feel-good politics tarted up with celebrity endorsement.
Born in 1960, he is a pin-up for late fortysomething, early fiftysomething urbanites of a vaguely Left-wing bent.
That is, they feel they should be Left-wing, though they may not live out their principles in their spending habits. It is a very Islington state of mind.
Bono, for instance, is fantastically extravagant. He is an enthusiastic buyer of stocks and shares - he owns a hefty chunk of the New York money magazine, Forbes.

Message: Bono addresses the Tory party conference shortly before David Cameron takes to the stage
He travels the world in a bubble of executive-jet comfort, spending a fortune on his little treats and fancies and racking up tens of thousands of air miles.
Here is a man worth hundreds of millions who has a villa in the South of France, an Italian palazzo looking over the briny near Dublin and a multi-million-pound penthouse in Manhattan.
And yet Bono's message to the Tory conference, as ever, was a homily about the poor and neglected of Africa.

If he feels that strongly, why doesn't he cough up some more of his own fortune?
In itself, his message should have been worth heeding. Many good British people devote their lives to improving the lot of oppressed Africans.
The problems of disease and famine south of the Sahara are something no good Christian can honestly ignore.
British charities are a credit to our generosity. And that is before you even start counting British government aid - something the Tories have promised to leave uncut, should they win the next General Election.
So the issue itself was not the problem. It was the fact that it was being raised, yet again, by this scruffy, plutocratic, hypocritical mountebank.
That was what made it hard to take. Bono the pious! Bwana Bono the aid grandee! Bono the tax avoider.
As has been frequently reported, this same Bono who talks of the importance of Western aid for the world's most hungry and diseased wretches is himself no saint when it comes to volunteering tax payments.
Far from it. He seems to be so keen on money that he devotes almost as much time these days to his business dealings as he does to his music making.
The company which handles U2's fees was accused by tax campaigners this year of moving to an overseas tax haven rather than stay in Ireland.
Tax haven, eh? Where does he think government aid comes from if it does not come from taxes?
If he places such a high value on this aid, how can he decently go to such lengths (legal though they may be) to avoid paying tax in his home country?
Is this not, well, a little whiffy? Does it not smack of double standards?
Bono may think that he sets an example to his fellow Westerners by prowling around the political forums of Europe and America, beating the drum for state handouts for Africa.
But would he not set a better example if he dismissed his accountants and his canny financial advisers and declared instead that he was rich enough to pay his taxes wherever they would be highest?
The millions of people who buy U2 records, by and large, have no choice but to pay their taxes at home.
Not for them the opulent international homes - Bono has countless fancy pads - and the limousines and the hot and cold running personal assistants.
Many of his music fans struggle to pay their taxes. What are they to make of a 'be happy to pay more tax' lecture by a tax avoider?
Many of his music fans struggle to pay their taxes. What are they to make of a 'be happy to pay more tax' lecture by a tax avoider?
The problem is that today's political hero worship is a symbiotic affair. The likes of Bono are useful to the politicians not just for their political analysis (such as it is).
They are valuable for their attendant glamour. The main reason Labour and the Conservatives asked Bono to appear at their conferences was a suspicion that he is somehow a 'cool guy', an artist who encapsulates their parties' values and ideals.
That the Tories fell for such shallow pretension is, well, just sad.
In some ways all this is a hangover of Tony Blair's Cool Britannia project, when pop stars and fashion designers were asked to 10 Downing Street to bestow glitter to the newly- elected Labour government.
Mr Blair was not the first to indulge in this sort of thing. Harold Wilson greased up to The Beatles in the hope of making himself look groovy. Ted Heath posed alongside opera singer Dame Janet Baker. Poor Ted. He never was wildly 'with it', was he?
If today's politicians use rock stars, the same is true vice-versa. People such as Bono use their political access not only to recommend-policy change but also to improve their own image.

Pride: Gordon Brown meets Bono last month at an event in New York held by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation who presented the Prime Minister with their World Statesman of the Year Award
Had Bono not taken up his famine and African poverty agenda, would he have sold so many records and remained such a big name for so long? Quite possibly not. He might well have disappeared into non-entitydom.
But Bono is nothing if not calculating. There is something contrived about his stage persona, from the silly mononym (his real name is Paul Hewson) to the twirly glasses and his apparent inability to wash his hair, shave his chin and speak clearly while looking his audience square in the eye.
Such vanity about being untidy! When he appeared in the video at the Labour conference, he looked like something out of Steptoe And Son.
At the Tory conference, his spectacles had such ornate hinges that they could have been part of the Queen Mother's gates near London's Hyde Park Corner.
But how much longer will these celebrity endorsements work?
Two years ago, there was a big charity push by rock stars, backed by some of the biggest and most fashionable brands in the world.
It was called the RED campaign. Despite a £52 million marketing drive, the charity raised just £9million for use against tuberculosis and malaria.
The disparity in those figures perhaps tells us that the public's appetite for celebrity charity campaigns is on the wane.
In part this may be down to over-exposure. In part it may reflect mounting suspicion that celebrity campaigners sometimes latch on to causes as much for their own publicity benefit as out of a genuine belief in the arguments.
Although it was depressing that David Cameron's Tories followed the received wisdom of recent years and felt that Bono might add something to their conference, the indifference of the reception he received will surely make a return performance unlikely.
The celebrity-awed vacuity of the Blair years is yielding to a different generation.
With any luck, our new masters will take their cue from the old Tories in that Manchester conference hall and reflect that a lecture about foreign aid from a small, strange-looking Irishman accounts to little more than a row of autumn beans.
If we are to continue to send millions of pounds of British tax money abroad, let us at least do so without being lectured by such an unappealing, hypocritical little man.By QUENTIN LETTS
Last updated at 10:17 AM on 10th October 2009

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