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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Bono pushes the right buttons
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online political reporter in Brighton

Tony Blair and Bono
The lead singer of Ugly Rumour meets a fan
As glowing tributes go, it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue.

But Irish rock star Bono certainly knows how to push the right buttons.

Addressing the Labour party's annual conference in Brighton, he dubbed the Gordon Brown and Tony Blair the Lennon and McCartney of global development.

In his student days, when he was lead singer of a rock band, Ugly Rumour, Mr Blair was, apparently, more of a Mick Jagger man.

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Irish rock singers have a better grip on Africa's poverty than our politicians
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But in a week when kind words have been thin on the ground, the prime minister looked more than happy to accept the Irish rock star's compliment.

In fact both Blair and Brown grinned away like autograph-hunting schoolboys as the U2 man made his point.

You half expected one of them to whip out a battered copy of The Joshua Tree and shuffle forward, biro in hand.

'Outrageous flattery'

Rock stars, as Bono was quick to point out, are not meant to do this.

Excuse me if I appear a little nervous. I'm not used to appearing before crowds of less than 80,000
Bono
"I'm an Irish rock star. It looks much better on me to slag you off," he said at one point.

But the singer and his friend Bob Geldof, who sits on Mr Blair's Africa Commission, have made something of a speciality in recent years of haranguing world leaders on the subject of Africa.

Using his rock star status to get his foot in the door, Bono beguiles them with outrageous flattery before hitting them with his demands for justice and equality for the continent's people.

In an emotionally-charged speech at Labour's annual rally, he praised Brown and Blair as "great men".

But he threatened to come looking for them, if they failed to deliver.

Africa trip

He kicked off with a bit of characteristic bombast: "Excuse me if I appear a little nervous. I'm not used to appearing before crowds of less than 80,000."

He then trotted out a few self-deprecating anecdotes about the last time he played Brighton, even apologising for the "mullet" hairstyle he sported throughout much of the 1980s.

He spoke about a trip to Ethiopia, made in the wake of Live Aid, where he worked for a month in an orphanage.

By now a lot of people watching the speech on TV will have been reaching for the sick bucket.

There are few people easier to poke fun at than a rock star with a conscience, something the Irish singer was quick to acknowledge.

After turning down the pleas of an African man to adopt his starving child in the 1980s, he said he had become the "worst thing of all, a rock star with a cause".

'Mind-altering drugs'

In fact, the U2 man asked, why ask a rock star about global development at all?

"Get yourself a source you can trust," he jokingly advised conference, "one who, when he hears the word 'drugs' thinks life-saving rather than mind-altering".

There were good reasons why delegations of rock stars were not sent to the world's trouble spots, he pointed out.

But Africa - a "shining, beautiful continent" - is clearly a subject very close to his heart.

And he was obviously keen to show he had read up on the subject of development, throwing in references to the "Brandt Report" and the Common Agricultural Policy.

'Distressing times'

He also knew how to tickle the tummy of the Labour faithful, namechecking Kier Hardie and Clement Attlee, to squeals of delight.

A career on the backbenches awaits if the next album flops.

He did put the boot in a couple of times, pointing out how much he disagreed with Mr Blair on the war in Iraq.

But there were also times when he sounded uncannily like Mr Blair himself.

"In these distressing and disturbing times, surely it is cheaper, and smarter, to make friends out of potential enemies than it is to defend yourself again them.

"Africa is not the frontline in the war on terror, but it could be soon. Justice is the surest way to get to peace."

In another passage, he mentioned that most New Labour of phrases "hard choices".

Poorest countries

Britain, Bono argued, has a unique opportunity to do something permanent and historic about poverty and aids in Africa.

The UK government has already agreed to cancel the debts of some of the world's poorest countries.

Now it must use its influence when it takes over the presidency of the EU and the G8 next year, to push for similar action from others.

"If we don't get there in 2005, I know where these people park their cars," Bono told the audience, who were by now, eating out of his hand.

"Simply agreeing with us is not enough. If Britain can't turn its values into action against extreme, stupid poverty. If this rich country, with the reins of power in its hands, can't lead other countries along this path to equality, then the critics tomorrow will be right.

"I am Tony Blair's apologist. The rock star pulled out of the hat at the Labour party conference."

Blair and Brown were looking forward to U2's next album, he said, because it meant he would be on tour for most of next year.

"But even from a tour bus I can be a pain in the arse. That's my job."

He ended with a question. "Do we have the will to make poverty history? Some say we can't afford to. Some say we can't afford not to."




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