Anger at 'celebocracy' brings change at MPH

Make Poverty History is to reduce its involvement with celebrities following criticism that Live 8 and Bob Geldof distorted the campaign's messages.

Celebrities will not feature as much as before in the year-long campaign's final months, and Comic Relief, the charity that has brokered most of MPH's celebrity relationships, will take more of a back seat, Third Sector has learned.

A number of activists were angered by Geldof's warm praise for the G8 leaders' deal on debt and aid at Gleneagles, which contradicted MPH's more sceptical assessment.

Geldof awarded the G8 "ten out of ten for aid and eight out of ten for debt". He also attacked as a "disgrace" the comments by African activist Kumi Naidoo that "the people have roared but the G8 has whispered".

Other off-message celebrities included singer Lemar, who said he was wearing a white wristband because there "should be enough food in the world to go round". Comedian Eddie Izzard confessed that he hadn't read the MPH manifesto when interviewed on Newsnight.

"There is a broad consensus that the celebocracy has got completely out of hand," said one senior figure within the MPH coalition. "At the G8, our worst nightmares came true as far as celebrity engagement was concerned.

Ultimately, there wasn't anyone who didn't think it was a big mistake on the road to Gleneagles to allow Geldof to have the platform in the way that he did."

According to sources within MPH, an internal evaluation of the first eight months of the campaign has led to a policy shift. The evaluation led to a move to rein in celebrities and make more use of activists from the southern hemisphere.

Dave Timms of the World Development Movement, said celebrities played a useful role in an overall strategy, but Live 8 made a balance almost impossible.

"At a time when MPH should have been moving from building the brand and gaining supporters to communicating its demands and ramping up the political pressure, Live 8 displaced this with a wall of celebrities, and no message beyond a vague notion of caring for the poor and wanting politicians to 'do something'," he said. "It obliterated everything else."

Catherine Cullen, media co-ordinator at MPH, said the campaign would be using celebrities less in its final four months because it would be concentrating on "very complex" trade issues. "It's going to get even more political, so it's not always appropriate for a celebrity to get involved," she said.

Cullen conceded that celebrities had occasionally diverged from MPH's agreed messages: "In any campaign, celebrities are not always as clued-up on the issues as when you have an activist doing it. But they get you the media space you wouldn't get otherwise."

The senior source at MPH said there would be "an absolute furore" among coalition members if the campaign worked with Geldof or Bono again.

- See Editorial, page 22.

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