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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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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era