Poor old Bono. You spend your life campaigning against poverty and injustice, and making some pretty good music along the way, and what thanks do you get?
U2 played the Glastonbury Festival in Britain for the first time last night, and their performance was briefly disrupted when a group protesting about the band’s alleged tax avoidance inflated a large balloon carrying the slogan ‘U Pay Your Tax 2’.
Of course, no conservative is going to quibble about the band’s right to take all legally-available steps to minimize their tax liability. The trouble is, such business dealings sit rather uneasily alongside Bono’s repeated calls for Western governments to send more money to developing nations, and write off outstanding debt.
From the conservative point of view, if Bono devoted his energy to encouraging private individuals and business to hand over their cash to charities, there wouldn’t be an issue here; the problem is, if governments are to send more money to Africa they need to get it from someone, and that someone is you, me and U2.
It’s a minor quibble though, and the self-righteous lefties of Art Uncut, who staged last night’s protest, and other activists, have nothing to complain about — they simply don’t like the idea of people getting rich, whether it’s rock stars or investment bankers.
Even if you accept that developing countries might have missed out on an infinitesimal percentage of U2’s millions, that’s been more than outweighed by the millions raised by benefit gigs in which the band has been involved, while Bono personally has done much to encourage action by world leaders, even if he’s at times guilty of over-simplifying the issues. He’s also, compared with other celebrity activists, commendably apolitical, having praised George W. Bush for his AIDs prevention initiatives.
Glastonbury being what it is these days, the protest was quickly snuffed out by security staff with an efficiency that would not have looked out of place on the streets of Tehran, Damascus or Beijing. The festival used to be very much a counter-culture affair, a Mecca for activist organizations such as Art Uncut. Now it’s all about corporate tie-ins, wall-to-wall coverage on the BBC and middle-class kids in designer *wellies (it always rains at Glastonbury).
The only problem for Bono is that he got there about 30 years too late, and a couple of hundered million dollars too rich.
*Wellies are Wellington boots — galoshes
PJM FLASHBACK: Dear Bono: Get Your Facts Straight