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Noel Gallagher: Looking back in anger

Noel Gallagher explains why he regrets posing with Tony Blair, prefers Thatcher to today’s politicians – and rejects the idea of working-class guilt.

Gallagher: “Ed Balls can frankly lick mine on his way to and from obscurity”
Portrait by Alan Clarke

Do you regret endorsing Tony Blair or New Labour?

Nah, not really. It was a great time in history. The grip of Thatcherism was being smashed. New Labour had been brilliant in opposition. When Tony Blair spoke, his words seemed to speak to people, young people. Call me naive but I felt something – I’m not quite sure what it was, but I felt it all the same. I do regret that picture at No 10 that night, though . . . I can still smell the cheese!

Would you go for tea with David Cameron?

Maybe. He looks like he could do with a good strong cup of Yorkshire. I don’t mind him, to be honest. No one actually takes him seriously, do they? All that “call me Dave” gear – hilarious.

Which politicians do you admire/despise?

Not many. What’s to admire, anyway – the way they fiddle their expenses? If I have to, though, I’d say: Winston Churchill, for his name alone. Dennis Skinner, because he absolutely takes no shit off the toffs, and Tony Blair because he played guitar and smoked a bit of weed (allegedly!). Somewhat predictably, the despise list is a bit longer. I won’t go into it here, I haven’t got all day, but in the interests of fairness and balance I’ll say . . . off the top of my head: Diane Abbott, [Ken] Clarke, Portillo, Boris-f***ing-Johnson, that little ginger bitch that ceremoniously gave back the money she’d fiddled during the expenses scandal, Norman Tebbit! Peter Mandelson! George-f***ing-Osborne. If I don’t stop now, this could literally go on longer than Be Here Now.

Who would you vote for if there were an election tomorrow?

I’m not sure I would vote. I didn’t feel last time that there was anything left to vote for. Doesn’t seem that anything has changed, ergo . . . ?

Do you think you pay your fair amount of tax as a rich person?

No. I think we should return to the Sixties when we paid 80 per cent tax so government can piss it up the wall on the war machine and bailing out the banks and funding ludicrous “initiatives” to help “stimulate” the economy. The economy that successive governments oversaw the destruction of. I think I pay just about enough, thanks . . . and you?

Do you believe in God?

Sadly no. And I don’t believe in the devil either. Or ghosts. Or Father Christmas, for that matter.

How do you feel when you see politicians at public events?

 Public events I don’t have a problem with. Although when you see them backstage at Glastonbury you are thinking: “Really, just f*** off.” I’m amazed “Dave” hasn’t popped down for the weekend to get down with the middle classes. When I see them at (for want of a better term) showbiz events, that really winds me up. We were at the GQ Awards recently and the gaff was crawling with them; they were even giving speeches and getting awards. Boris-f***ing-Johnson got an award for “Politician of the Year”. I was speechless an award like that even exists, and he was boasting – in a Nineties rock-star full-of-cheng style – at how brilliant he must be due to the fact that he’d won the same award three times. Will.i.(haven’t got a f***ing clue) Hague was there while that crisis in Syria was blowing up.

I genuinely thought these people would have more important things to be getting on with. Clearly, scratching the back of said magazine and its editor takes precedence over all. Shameful behaviour. Though not as shameful as ours, eh, Rusty?

Did you trust politicians in the Seventies and Eighties more than contemporary figures such as Osborne or Ed Balls?

You could trust them in the sense that you knew exactly where you stood with them. Neil Kinnock, for example: no grey areas. He knew who he was and what he stood for. Thatcher, even. We knew she was the enemy. She hated us; we hated her. All was right in the world.

This new generation are media opportunists, shilly-shallying flag-wavers, the musical equivalent of Enya. If they were a colour, they’d be beige.

I have no doubt that George Osborne would’ve practised his weeping the night before Thatcher’s funeral. He might be the most slappable man in England, the kind of man that would watch Coronation Street or EastEnders to get a perspective on the working class.

Ed Balls can quite frankly lick mine on his way to and from obscurity.

Whom will you tell your sons to vote for?

Politics will surely be dead as a f***ing parrot by the time the two young lords get the vote.

Can music influence politics?

Not really. Musicians would have you believe otherwise, of course. On the other hand, music can and does shape society – and society in the long run eventually shapes politics. But if you’re suggesting that “Dave” hears the new Fatboy Slim tune “Eat Sleep Rave Repeat” and suddenly advocates 24-hour clubbing, then you’re mental.

Are the working class represented in modern politics?

 I don’t think so, and that wouldn’t be by accident either. The de-education of the masses has seen to that. Sad but true.

Do you suffer from working-class guilt?

Working-class guilt – if such a thing exists – exists only in the offices of the Guardian. Only in the mind of the Guardian journalist who feels he’s let his right-on parents down by not writing for Socialist Worker.

Working-class guilt is for the middle-class Observer columnist what wishes he wasn’t such a joyless square; who feels bad that his favourite bottle of rosé costs more than £9.99. The rest of us, on the other hand, are too busy living to give a shit.

Do you ever vote?

Not if I can help it.

How could we re-engage people who feel that politics “isn’t for them”?

Good luck with that! Politics itself isn’t that bad. It would seem it’s central to our very being – y’know, being British and democratic and all that. The trouble with politics, like most things in the world, is the people that are in it. Politicians. How can people relate to politics if they can’t relate to politicians?

Should we regulate or legalise drug use?

Not sure that would be the best idea. Decriminalise the use of psychedelics? Maybe yes. But heroin – the fleetwood [Editor: as in Mac/smack]? Cocaine? Nah, not for me. To open the door to every tourist drug monkey in Europe would be a nightmare. There’s enough tourists here anyway! Have you been to Amsterdam?

Are we all doomed?

People will always find a way to soldier on. Even at its worst there’s enough to be proud of in this country: music, football, the arts and fashion. These things come and go in cycles. I mean who could’ve foreseen during the darkness of the Eighties how incredible the Nineties would be?

Hang in there, I say. The magic is coming. And when it does come, next time do yourself a favour: get involved, enjoy it. It never lasts that long.


This article first appeared in the 23 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Russell Brand Guest Edit

Photo: Getty Images
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.