Bread and circuses

June 24, 2004 ,

THE Roman Emperor Augustus kept the people happy with a policy known as “bread and circuses”.

The rich Romans were vastly outnumbered by plebeian classes or “plebs” as we would say today.

Augustus realising they needed to be fed and kept happy distributed grain and organised lavish free entertainments like gladiators and chariot races.

Two famous be-knighted entertainers came to talk about modern bread and circuses in meetings in the Commons this week.

The first was Sir Bob Geldolf.
The Irish ex-rocker and Live Aid organiser had come to lobby for more money for the world’s poor.

Britain has agreed to the United Nations target of 0.7% of national income, but currently we only give around 0.4% and no target date has been set by the Government.

In fairness, Gordon Brown has increased Britain’s contribution which was slashed by Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s.

Sir Bob is now a member of Tony Blair’s Africa Commission.
He showed us pictures of poverty in Africa and asked “why do people have to live like this?”

“Put our money where their mouth is” was his plea.

The other knight was Sir Ian McKellen, or “Gandalf” as he is now known to fans of Lord of the Rings.

He came to lobby for more money for the arts, reminding us that man cannot live by bread alone.
Indeed as Sir Bob has proved with Live Aid artists themselves can contribute to directly helping the poor.

Gordon Brown is shortly to announce his spending plans for the next three years.
He has to weigh the demands for more money for aid and arts against education, the health service, defence and all other competing demands.

2,000 years on bread and circuses is still what politics, at its basic level, is all about.