Can you believe it’s been thirty eight years since the release of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’?
Stars of the time came together to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia. It’s thought as many as one million starved to death. Bob Geldof and Midge Ure were the leading figures, following in the footsteps of George Harrison and his concert for Bangladesh. The tradition continues today with Ed Sheeran’s Birmingham concert for Ukraine. Live Aid, which followed the single, was unique, however, in that it reached a global audience of almost two billion, never seen before or since. It raised £150million and forced Western countries to donate grain to the people of sub-Saharan Africa.
As with almost all aid efforts, there have been criticisms, with some commenting that Geldof, who was given a knighthood by our late Queen, failed to include a single African act in his line-up. The famine was portrayed as a biblical event due to drought. While environmental conditions played a part, the forced dislocation of people and crop destruction were equal causes as the Addis Ababa government waged war on its opponents.
It can sometimes be difficult to make the case for aid, which perhaps explains why the government has found it so easy to cut. Unusually, it occupies a prominent place in Birmingham politics with Andrew Mitchell, the Sutton Coldfield MP, re-joining the government as Minister for Aid, and his shadow being my parliamentary neighbour, Edgbaston MP Preet Gill.
It’s hard to know what legacy Band Aid leaves. It provided immediate, short-term food to people who were starving, and money continues to be directed to sustainable farming projects today. It brought a generation of young people into the world of charity and combined the Christmas message of giving with a real-world problem.
I have a nostalgic view of Band Aid but it’s not just about giving: it’s about addressing root causes and helping people survive in their own lands. That’s one way to curb unwanted immigration, but it requires a determined political approach, supplemented by events like Band Aid which do capture the public imagination.