The greatest political songs of all time

Do you agree with the Political Studies Association's list?

To mark its 60th birthday, the Political Studies Association is compiling a list of the greatest ever political songs.

As you can see below, its longlist is a varied beast, ranging from Verdi's opera Aida, to the righteous Afrobeat of Fela Kuti, to Woody Guthrie's folky "This Land is Your Land" -- the latter a favourite of US progressives in the 1950s and 1960s that had a brief resurgence in 2009 when it was performed (including the "communist" verses) at Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony.

But what to make of the choices? You'll notice that the politics of these songs are overwhelmingly right-on -- the Italian anti-Fascist staple "Bella Ciao", the utopian "Imagine" -- or infused with a campaigning spirit -- the Special AKA's "Free Nelson Mandela", Public Enemy's "Fight the Power".

But are these the only kind of political songs? How about a song that actively supports the status quo, for example?

Here's the blogger Tom Ewing on Chris de Burgh's "The Lady in Red", not only one of the most cringeworthy number-one singles of all time, but also, according to Ewing, an encapsulation of market values: "the actual identity of the Lady In Red is quite irrelevant: what matters is her value, not her self".

Or, further still, perhaps the politics of a song are not only carried in its lyrics. J S Bach allegedy wrote a coded attack on his patron Frederick the Great into one of his final works, "The Musical Offering", but how about the tinny, repetitive beats carried over the PA of a high-street chain store? Is their insistence on shopping as a mechanical, compulsive activity a political message, too?

We'll be podcasting the PSA's top 20 on 25 March, but for now tell us what you think. What songs would make your top ten? Which ones have been missed?

Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin: "Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves"

Anon: "Bella Ciao"

Barry McGuire: "Eve of Destruction"

Billie Holiday: "Strange Fruit"

Billy Bragg: "Which Side Are You On?"

Bob Dylan: "The Times They Are a-Changin'"

Bob Marley: "Redemption Song"

Bruce Springsteen: "Born in the USA"

Carl Bean: "I Was Born This Way"

Cecil A Spring-Rice: "I vow to thee my country"

Charles A Tindley: "We Shall Overcome"

Charly García: "Nos siguen pegando abajo"

Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle: "La Marseillaise"

Donovan: "Universal Soldier"

Edwin Starr: "War"

Elvis Costello: "Tramp the Dirt Down"

Enoch Sontonga: "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika"

Eugène Pottier: "The Internationale"

Fela Kuti: "Zombie"

Gil Scott Heron: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"

Horst Wessel: "Die Fahne hoch"

Jim Connell: "The Red Flag"

John Lennon: "Imagine"

Joni Mitchell: "Big Yellow Taxi"

Leonard Cohen: "The Partisan"

Li Youyuan: "The East is Red (东方红)"

Marvin Gaye: "What's Going on?"

Midnight Oil: "Beds Are Burning"

Nena: "99 Luftballons"

Nina Simone: "Mississippi Goddam"

Pete Seeger: "Where have all the flowers gone?"

Peter Gabriel: "Biko"

Plastic Ono Band: "Give Peace a Chance"

Public Enemy: "Fight the Power"

Randy Newman: "Political Science"

Rage Against the Machine: "Killing in the Name"

Robert Wyatt: "Shipbuilding"

Rolling Stones: "Gimme Shelter"

Sex Pistols: "God Save the Queen"

The Beatles: "Revolution"

The Clash: "Know Your Rights"

The Cranberries: "Zombie"

The Jam: "Eton Rifles"

The Police: "Invisible Sun"

The Special AKA: "Free Nelson Mandela"

The Strawbs: "Part of the Union"

Tracy Chapman: "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution"

U2: "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

UB40: "1 in 10"

Verdi: "Chorus of Hebrew Slaves"

Victor Jara: "Te Recuerdo Amanda"

William Blake: "Jerusalem"

Woody Guthrie: "This Land Is Your Land"

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.