Food, warmth and shelter
The warm up acts came and went. All had a tough gig apart from one fifteen year-old lad who blew the place apart with a cover of Whitney Houston's hit - I Have Nothing. It was sensational and amazingly cut through British apathy to evoke big cheers on the high notes – a highlight. The fidgety audience drank and ate. Well they drank and when, on occasion, a "Street Food" purveyor bolted from an archway with cartons of nondescript grub revellers descended vulture-like on the poor girl taking as many cartons as possible. Like any charitable food drop to the hungry this was disordered, unmannerly and infused with a 'look after number one' fervour. As we were in a wet cave the hunter gatherer approach seemed acceptable - I just hope that Street Food girl is okay as she and her colleagues didn't return.
More acts spat bare rhymes and sang all interdispersed with inspirational films of developing world potential. Now we were primed – hungry and humid but pumped. Come on let's have this now – we're ready. Bang – out comes the first game changer it's Will.I.Am [sic] he was wearing a rimed hat that made him look like a carp fisherman. He talked for eight minutes about his foundation the i.am Home Fund which helps those Americans in jeopardy of losing their homes due to the economic crisis.
Two clear messages
Now enter Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow she read from a crumpled sheet of A4 about her love of the Clinton Foundation. No-one could hear and as she hadn't learnt the lines she didn't engage the now twitchy audience. Next up Chelsea Clinton – she aped Gwyneth's crumpled A4 style but the throng were a little quieter sensing there was a big moment around the corner. Chelsea talked about how inspirational she found the Clinton Foundation and signed off by introducing her old man "Ladies and gentlemen the man who inspires me on a daily basis... President Bill Clinton".
The crowd erupted and Bill – free from A4 - spoke. His short speech addressed climate change and related melting icecaps to the safely of the British. He then made just two points. One: everyone in that wet cave was privileged so have a responsibility. Two: everyone has a choice about how they can change the world. A quick wrap up then: "God bless you all and good night" What?
You say it best - when you say nothing at all....
What was that? I'll tell you it was a masterclass in ambiguity, conscience cleansing and not derailing the gravy train. I know what you're thinking – where was Bono? Don't know – probably eating somewhere. The audience were middle-aged, middle-class professionals who came to be embraced not challenged - or did they? Because looking around I felt there were a lot of people genuinely looking for meaning, purpose and a new narrative.
After the non-event many were disenchanted with the gig citing the venue, queues, acoustics and stench but I think they were actually making a different point. If Mr President had ripped it that night and spoken the truth about proper reform in Africa and The West - the expensive, substandard trimmings would have paled into insignificance. This night was a Big Mac not the rib eye the crowd were promised and had paid for. They wanted (still want) something wholesome to graze on. You see people are now looking for leadership with a progressive narrative not trite 1999 style management. So what could have been addressed?
- The reason the Will.I.Am Home Fund has been set up is due to predatory lending practices and the way banks are incentivised to create money.
- The land grabbing going on in Africa today is the sole reason why endemic poverty will continue unabated for the next century. Give Africans their resource rents.
- Property speculation is not a good thing for any economy or society as it privatises community created value which always ends catastrophically with the bursting of the asset bubble.
Who sponsored this ? *Addressing this - too risky? No - and I think that Bill and advisers are on the wrong side of the argument. Being such an adept politician he should know how quickly the tide turns. Maybe he has sponsors or just too many yes men in the entourage who complacently assume we will return to 'business as usual'. If so they are applying a 1990's charity template to a property-less generation of people who are not going to live as well as their predecessors. Whatever - they're all in for a massive shock.
Make no mistake I love the optimistic American 'get stuff done' mentality vs. atomic British apathy. We experienced Yank optimism the night after the Clinton hoo-hah when, independently, an American student called Andrew Terrell organised a screening and Q&A of Four Horsemen for Warwick University Humanities Dept. He did it off his own bat because he thought it would benefit his peers. The debate went on for ninety minutes and that night I was struck with a simple observation. These students and their professors are interested in root causes – it is they who want to shun triage and build a firm foundation.
The guys and girls who will change this deathly system weren't in Clinton's conscience cleansing cave on Tuesday – they are in a lecture theatres everywhere engaged, enraged and working out how to do it.
(* The Clinton Foundation event was co-hosted by the Reuben Foundation - the charitable channel of property tycoons David and Simon Reuben.)