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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

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Keir Starmer: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting Brexit wrong”

The former director of public prosecutions is now heading up Labour’s response to Brexit. But can he succeed in holding the Tories’ feet to the fire?

Early in his new role as shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer was accused of being a “second-rate lawyer”. The gibe, in a Commons debate, came from none other than Iain Duncan Smith. Starmer was director of public prosecutions for five years and later stood for parliament in 2015. No novice, then. Within a few days, Duncan Smith stood again in the House, this time to offer his apologies.

A fortnight later, I met Starmer at his quiet office in Westminster. He was sitting at a table piled with papers, in an office that, a discreet family photo aside, was unadorned. He had just got back from a whirlwind trip to Brussels, with many more such visits planned in the weeks ahead.

Starmer returned to the shadow cabinet after Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership election victory last month. “The series of agreements we will have to reach in the next few years is probably the most important and complex we’ve had to reach since the Second World War,” he told me.

Starmer, who is 54, took his time entering politics. Born in 1962, he grew up in a Labour-supporting household in Surrey – his father was a toolmaker and his mother a nurse – and was named after Keir Hardie. After studying law at Leeds University, he practised as a human rights barrister and became a QC in 2002. In 2008, after varied legal work that included defending environmental campaigners in the McLibel case, he became the head of the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales as well as director of public prosecutions, positions he held until 2013.

When in 2015 Starmer ran for a seat in parliament to represent Holborn and St Pancras in London, it was assumed he would soon be putting his expertise to use in government. Instead, after Labour’s election defeat under Ed Miliband, he served as one of Corbyn’s junior shadow ministers, but resigned after the EU referendum in June.

Now, he is back on the opposition front bench and his forensic scrutiny of government policy is already unsettling the Conservatives. Philippe Sands, the law professor who worked with him on Croatia’s genocide lawsuit against Serbia, says he couldn’t think of anyone better to take on the Brexiteers in parliament. “It’s apparent that the government is rather scared of him,” Sands said. This is because Starmer is much more capable of teasing out the legal consequences of Brexit than the average Brexit-supporting Tory MP. Sands added: “It would be fun to watch if the stakes weren’t so very high.”

Starmer is a serious man and refused to be drawn on the character of his opponents. Instead, speaking slowly, as if weighing every word, he spelled out to me the damage they could cause. “The worst scenario is the government being unable to reach any meaningful agreement with the EU and [the UK] crashing out in March 2019 on no terms, with no transitional arrangement.” The result could be an economic downturn and job losses: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting this wrong.”

If Starmer seems pessimistic, it is because he believes time is short and progress has been slow. Since the referendum, disgruntled MPs have focused their attention on the final Brexit settlement. Yet if, as he argues, the starting position for our negotiations with the EU is wrong, the damage will have been done. MPs faced with a bad deal must either approve it or “risk the UK exiting the EU without a deal at all”.

It is this conviction that is driving his frantic schedule now. Starmer’s first month in the job is packed with meetings - with the representatives of the devolved nations, business leaders and his European counterparts.

He has also become a familiar face at the dispatch box. Having secured a commitment from David Davis, the minister for Brexit, that there will be transparent debate – “the words matter” – he is now demanding that plans to be published in January 2017 at the earliest, and that MPs will have a vote at this stage.

In his eyes, it will be hard for the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to resist, because devolved parliaments and the European parliament will almost certainly be having a say: “The idea there will be a vote in the devolved administrations but not in Westminster only needs to be stated to see it’s unacceptable.”

In Europe, Starmer said, the view is already that Britain is heading for the cliff edge. It was May’s pledge, that after Brexit the UK would not “return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”, which raised alarm. And among voters, there is “increasing anxiety” about the direction in which the UK is moving, he said. Even Tory voters are writing to him.

In the Labour Party, which is putting itself back together again after the summer’s failed coup, immigration remains the most vexed issue. Starmer told me that Labour had “earned a reputation for not listening” on the issue. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show shortly after becoming shadow Brexit secretary, he said immigration was too high and ought to be reduced. But later that same day, Diane Abbott, a shadow cabinet colleague, contradicted him, publicly criticising immigration targets.

Starmer believes there is a bigger picture to consider when it comes to Britain’s Brexit negotiations. Take national security, where he warns that there are “significant risks” if communications break down between the UK and the EU. “Part of the negotiations must be ensuring we have the same level of co-operation on criminal justice, counterterrorism, data-sharing,” he said.

Crucially, in a Labour Party where many experienced politicians are backbench dissenters, he wants to reach out to MPs outside the shadow cabinet. “We have to work as Team Labour,” he stressed.

It’s a convincing rallying cry. But for some MPs, he represents more than that: a lone moderate in what can be seen as a far-left leadership cabal. Does he have any ambitions to lead Labour? “Having had two leadership elections in the space of 12 months, the last thing we need at the moment is discussion of the leadership of the Labour Party.” He has agreed to serve in the shadow cabinet, and is determined to stay there.

Starmer has found his purpose in opposition. “If we think things aren’t going right, we’ve got to call it out early and loudly. The worst situation is that we arrive at March 2019 with the wrong outcome. By then, it will be too late.”

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage