Originally written and published in April 2015.
Some people would say that music isn’t political enough now days. I used to be one of them. I come at music from a more artistic perspective recently. I enjoy it more on its creative merit than its political posturing. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy an artist that successfully straddles both. It’s tough to do and few have managed it tastefully. Those who have though, will be forever immortalised in musical history. Those who captured a zeitgeist, who summed up a movement, who provided the soundtrack to a revolution, their songs will always have that magic sparkle, that indescribable ingredient that separates “Two Tribes” from “Purple Rain”.
Maybe that’s why bands are so keen to dabble in a political world they often scarcely understand. Perhaps that’s cynical of me, there are brilliant examples of musicians who are just genuinely passionate about politics in general, who devote themselves to a cause they’ve researched and believe in. Take Blur’s Dave Rowntree for example. Being the drummer in one of the finest bands around would be enough for most, but here’s a guy who clearly has much more to offer the world. Whether you agree with his politics or not (personally I think I part company with him on the whole invasion of Iraq issue) you have to respect the way he’s gone about his political career. He’s separated it from his music, committed himself to causes he believes in and approached it in an intelligent, considered way. That requires brains, and commands respect.
This brings me onto the event which brought about the writing of this piece, an event which did not require brains and commanded no respect. It was something that initially I raised an eyebrow at and then carried on doing what I was doing, but the more I thought about it the more I decided it was both significant and worrying on a number of levels. A tweet from UK band The Rifles which said “seems like UKIP are the only ones with the balls to make a change” which was promptly deleted and then claimed to be the result of a hacking. I’m not about to have a pop at The Rifles, put your pens down in the NME office, this is just an observation on where we are with musicians and politics in general.
Three things are rather perturbing about the entire event. Firstly, if this was a hack we should all be very sad at the declining level of hilarity of twitter hacks. Compared to the Britney Spears new world order hack or the amazing “Ja Rule reflects on his career” (got to check that one out) this one was left wanting.
Secondly and more seriously assuming this wasn’t a funny hack gone unfunny it’s worrying that when musicians of our generation involve themselves with politics, this is the way they do so. Finally it’s very worrying that of all the political parties out there to support, albeit for a matter of minutes, the go to party of choice was UKIP. It’s a serious concern that so many young people gravitate towards Nigel Farage’s rhetoric, it’s a shame that anybody does but particularly the young working class because they couldn’t be more misguided in believing this old, public school, ex-Tory, son of a stockbroker represents them any more than any other old Etonian.
Over the course of my life, I’ve seen politics shift increasingly towards the centre ground. Elections used to be won and lost on values and ideals, on visions for the future direction of nations. Political parties used to represent opposing sides of big societal issues. The right would fight the left, everybody was clear on where they stood and Billy Bragg would write a song about it all. Now the two main parties are so closely aligned on most key issues that elections have become a competition to find out who’s most attractive when eating a bacon sandwich and Russell Brand tells us not to vote for anyone.
The reason for this in my mind is because decades ago politicians were people who had a career outside of Westminster, gained some life experience and then went into politics, whereas now politics is a career choice. Most politicians have no real life experience whatsoever and thus no idea how to relate to, let alone represent normal let’s say “hard working people” (because a whole minute has passed and David Cameron hasn’t said it).
My generation haven’t educated themselves about politics simply because it’s not as easy to now. It’s not as black and white, it’s not right or left.
To work out who best represents your views you have to get right down into the nitty gritty of individual policies since the manifesto of the main parties is so seemingly similar on the face of it all. Most just don’t feel strongly enough about politics to do that. So when a relatively new party appears passionately offering something different, people my age just lap it up without looking into the details. Many of the things Farage has argued for are completely anti-working class. Some examples:
1) Abolishing legal rights for workers on weekly working hours, sick pay, overtime, redundancy, holiday pay, pensions and employers national insurance obligations.
2) Getting rid of minimum wage for apprentices.
3) His approach to tax would see him effectively give a bigger tax cut to millionaires than the Tories.
4) He’s argued for the NHS to be run by private companies as a for profit organisation like the insurance based American system.
5) Scrapping inheritance tax, a move that would significantly reduce social mobility and increase inequity and enlarge the growing gap between rich and poor.
6) Last year UKIP refused to support action against tax cheats and banking reform.
7) He’s said he’d scrap women’s right to maternity leave, halve maternity pay and went as far as to say that women are worth less to their employer after coming back from having a child. In fact last year UKIP MEP’s refused to vote for equal pay for women.
Oh, and by the way, it’s currently illegal for your employer to discriminate against you based on your race or ethnicity, but he’d abolish that too.
All of this sounds like a guy who’s protecting employers, banks, businesses, not the people who work there, not the young working class. Nigel Farage represents young working class people about as much as Enya represent death metal.
It saddens me that this is where we are with music and politics. We used to have real heroes who understood the political landscape. Now we have ill informed retracted tweets about a joke political party who’s biggest reason for success is the demise of real politics.
I’m never going to be a musician who endorses any political party, I don’t have Dave Rowntree’s political ambition and who I vote for is my business. What I will say to our followers and any young people who care to listen, is that you should vote. Your vote is your right to shape society in the direction you think best. Your vote should be carefully considered and you should do your homework. It might seem tedious, but it’s better than voting for the bloke with the pint in his hand pretending he’s not like the others because your favourite band tweeted about them and ending up with Nigel Farage and all of his antiquated, discriminative and offensive beliefs.
A vote is a powerful thing, the ability to influence young peoples votes is a powerful thing. My main point is, both should be used responsibly.