Anti-Poverty Maverick to Advise UK Conservatives

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - Britain's Conservative Party has scored a publicity coup by getting Irish rock singer and anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof to act as an advisor to a new party working group on globalization and poverty.

The relationship promises to be a rocky one, however, since even under new "compassionate conservative" leader David Cameron, the Tory Party is likely to clash over policy frequently with the outspoken Geldof.

Geldof's agreement to serve as an unpaid consultant for the Globalization and Global Poverty Group is also drawing fire from critics of the Conservatives, some of whom are hinting that he is a sell-out, naive or both.

The left-wing Liberal Democrats expressed skepticism about the initiative, saying the Conservatives "have got a lot to do to persuade others that they are no longer the party of greed."

Without mentioning Geldof by name, Liberal Democrat representative Andrew George said in a statement that "people who are being dragged in to this review should be careful their reputation is not being used and possibly damaged for the future."

"Does Geldof seriously think the Tories will introduce policies that will tackle poverty?" asked Gill Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the activist coalition G-8 Alternatives.

"Mr. Cameron has no intention of dropping all debt owed by the poorest countries, nor will he increase the aid budget," she said in a published statement.

New Tory leader Cameron is hoping to attract the support of younger Britons, and the poverty working group is one of six he is setting up in a bid to make the party more electable after three successive poll defeats at the hands of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party.

Both Geldof and the Conservatives stressed that the Irishman was not joining the party and would remain "entirely non-partisan."

"He will bring his influence to bear, in order to help us to go in the direction that he and we both want to go," Cameron said in a statement Wednesday.

For his part, Geldof acknowledged that he was being "used."

"But that's my job, to be used, so long as I can help steer the policy towards those who are dying [of poverty]," the Times quoted him as saying. "It doesn't bother me that people say I am being used."

"I am not party political. I am completely non-partisan -- as are those dying of want," Geldof added.

Well connected

Some anti-poverty campaigners have found fault with Geldof this year, saying he was too close to Prime Minister Tony Blair and had been too quick to accept the outcome of last summer's G-8 summit in Edinburgh, which had a strong focus on "making poverty history."

While Geldof praised the event afterwards as "the most important summit there ever has been for Africa," critics charged that the world's leading industrialized nations had not offered enough money -- or made it available soon enough -- to adequately help poor countries.

Some of those same critics were also unhappy when Geldof in 2003 praised President Bush's $15 billion fund to combat AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.

"The Bush administration is the most radical -- in a positive sense -- in its approach to Africa since Kennedy," Geldof said at the time.

Although some have questioned his expertise in development issues, Geldof is hugely well connected and has succeeded in organizing the biggest musical fundraising events in history -- raising money for famine victims in Ethiopia in 1985, and last July, focusing attention on poverty in a series of concerts coinciding with the G-8 summit.

"He knows more people, he's got access to more expertise than almost anybody else in the world, and that's why I'm thrilled to have him as an advisor to the group," Conservative lawmaker Peter Lilley, who will chair the new group, told the BBC.

Cameron said the group would "study the benefits and impacts of globalized free trade."

He hoped it would "develop ideas to enable the economic empowerment of the poorest people on our planet -- for example, through property rights and other institutions to promote economic development and wealth creation."

In an editorial, the conservative Daily Telegraph declared itself "delighted" that Cameron was interested in international development issues.

"He now has an opportunity to develop a distinctive center-right approach that might actually work," it said. "Africa needs secure property rights, limited government, action against state monopolies and cronyism and, above all, independent mechanisms for judicial arbitration through which the citizen can realistically seek redress."

But the paper cautioned that that agenda was at odds with the types of policies promoted by Geldof, such as bigger government and trade protectionism.

Other policy review groups being set up by Cameron include ones on the environment, social justice, national security, public service reform and economic competitiveness.

See Earlier Story:
Resurgent UK Tories Signal Shift to Center (Dec. 16, 2005)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow