Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No Maggie No!

Two days ago I read an article in The Guardian by music critic John Harris about David Cameron's thwarted attempts to have his picture taken outside 'Salford Lads Club'. The story goes that the MP for the area, Hazel Blears, having got wind of Cameron's ruse, dispatched a group of flunkies with placards marked, "Salford Lads Club not Eton snobs" and "Oi Dave - Eton Toffs Club 300 miles that way", to ambush Cameron's photo-op.

Recounting the story at a Labour Party conference Blears announced that she "couldn't resist it" and sent Cameron a picture of herself outside the afformentioned club. They play their games and we try and get along with living our lives.

For those of you that are slightly bewildered by this non-story about a spat between politicians trying to pass itself off as a comment on class-conflict, 'Salford Lads Club' was where Morrissey et al were photographed for the inside cover of The Smiths 1986 LP The Queen is Dead, as if that is meant to mean anything to anyone living in 2008.

Then again, maybe it means quite a lot if you're a middle aged rock writer with a romantic view of a desolate past where dole cues ran for miles, the young and the old were abandoned by an uncaring goverment and the beast called Thatcher ruled with an iron fist! Moreover a place where clear lines were drawn between Left and Right, Conservative and Socialist, Tory and Pinko, wrong and right!

Harris' central agrument is that the new vogue for politicians wanting to appear in touch with popular culture, is damaging the culture’s ability to have something to say, against the government, against the establishment, against authority of any kind. Harris says, "It's as if those songs have been retrospectively robbed of their political charge and rendered kitch - just more stuff to be stuck on the great collective playlist, and shuffled beyond any meaning." I don't think too many people were interested in whether Ted Heath or Harold Wilson were fans of The Beatles or The Kinks, they're supposed to be worrying about more important things.

He singles out the Tory party and specifically David Cameron, complaining that Dave is trying to co-opt 'anti-Thatcher' songs from the 1980s by The Smiths and The Jam, in order to boost the image of his caring, socialy responsible, hoodie-hugging Tory Party.

It's the kind of article you seem to see a lot of, using the facts in a bald kind of way that serves its own purpose and denies the rest. In this case, retrospectively rendering creative decisions political. It imagines popular music as a kind of battle ground, a place for division and taking sides, and "lies that life is black and white".

For my money just about the only thing more dull than a politician talking poilicy is a muscian trying to force-feed people their political views, and a self-righteous critic taking ownership of something that was never theirs is even worse. I think what I am talking about is the difference between politics and Politics. Every action is political, if you care to look at it in that sense. Just as everything is ideological, social, sexual, depending on who's glasses you decide to wear. Most people don’t see things in quite such a polarising way.

Who wants to listen to an earnest, right-on, socialist like Billy Brag whinge about Thatcher? "It says nothing to me about my life." He apparently jumped at the chance to have his picture taken with Gordon Brown, recently. Bragg said, “Yes! At last! I can send a clear message to the Cameronistas that there's absolutely no chance of them fucking co-opting me.” Well, quite, and its this kind of self-important egoism that makes Billy Brag one of the least inspiring figures in music. That and just in case he’s had a complete irony bypass, on the issue of being co-opted - by allying yourself with Gordon Brown, you already have mate.


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