You Only Get What You Give, David? Really?

Why the rubbish music played at party conferences matters.

"Dealers keep dealin', thieves keep thievin', whores keep whorin', junkies keep scorin'." Not exactly the musical accompaniment you'd expect Home Secretary Theresa May to choose to soundtrack her speech at the Conservative Party Conference.

And it wasn't.

As much as Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie, allegedly a card-carrying member of the Socialist Workers Party, might want to give the Tories a kicking, it was actually Dandy Warhols' Bohemian Like You that sounded out as May left the stage.

That isn't really any better, however. The song featured on a Vodafone TV advert for years, and I'm pretty sure the Tories wouldn't want to remind everyone about the £6billion-tax-bill-sized ball they dropped with that one.

David Cameron didn't exactly lead by example either, walking on to the sounds of You Get What You Give by The New Radicals.

If our ruddy-faced premier had anything to do with the song choice at all -- and let's hope he spent all available time perfecting his speech rather than poring over his iPod -- it suggests no more than a cursory glance at the tracklisting of whichever Now That's What I Call Music compilation that particular chart-bothering one-hit wonder came from.

"You get what you give? I like the sound of that idea, Samantha, it's like my Big Society. And the band are called The New Radicals. How jolly! That's what they used to call Boris and me when we were at Eton."

If Call Me Dave had delved deeper into the lyrical content of the song, of course, he would have discovered lines about "trashing Mercedes-Benz" and chasing the rich back to their mansions, plus an honourable, topical mention for lying "big bankers buying".

His exit music, meanwhile, was The Lovecats by The Cure which, on the surface seems rather lovely with its melodic double bass and kooky piano-led chorus, but it's all too easy to imagine Cameron and his cabinet "slipping through the streets while everyone sleeps, getting bigger and sleeker and wider and brighter". The slippery buggers.

Ed Miliband is no better. Choosing Florence + The Machine's cover of You Got The Love is as lame a grab for the zeitgeist as there ever was. I'm actually surprised, given the ubiquity of Flo's appearances at UK festivals over the past couple of years, that she didn't float out onto the stage and demand to perform it as a duet.

Now, I may have been giving the music used at the various party conferences too much thought lately, but that's only because I wish the parties cared as much. I'm not stupid; with 80,000 more unemployed people on the streets in the last six months and Mervyn King warning of the most serious financial crisis in decades, I realise there are more important things to fret about than which Killers song to play as the PM takes the lectern.

But I think it does point at something far more worrying - that they Just. Don't. Get. It. On any level. Politicians have long battled to appear connected with the voters, and an easy way of doing this is with shared cultural influences. Gordon Brown saying he loved Arctic Monkeys in 2006 was a pathetic, last-ditch attempt of grabbing some young voters. And he got found out, which is even more embarrassing than lying in the first place, although perhaps not quite as desperate-looking as Mr Tony Blair carrying his Fender Stratocaster everywhere with him. He was in a band at uni, you know...

David Cameron learned nothing from the Brown debacle and keeps on insisting he's a fan of The Smiths. Music is in the public domain once it's released, and no matter how much Johnny Marr forbids Dave from listening to The Queen Is Dead, he can't stop him.

Cameron, however, should know better than to endorse a band born during Thatcher's formative years. How can he seriously enjoy songs such as Miserable Lie, I Don't Owe You Anything and Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now? And an album title that rejoices in the fact his boss has carked it.

Dismiss the Tories' musical faux pas as unimportant if you will, but for me, their lack of research into the matter is symptomatic of a government not only obsessed with the superficial, but worryingly slack with the details too.

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Former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: Why I’m leaving Labour and joining the Lib Dems

A former political ally of Jeremy Corbyn explains why he is leaving Labour after nearly 50 years.

I’m leaving home. It’s a very hard thing to do. All of my natural allegiances have been to Labour, and never had I contemplated leaving the party – not even in the gloomy years, when we were fighting Iraq and the battles over civil liberties. I have always taken the view that it’s far better to stay within it. But it has just gone too far. There has been a total failure to identify the major issues of our age.

The related problems of the environment, globalisation and the migration of impoverished people are almost ignored in favour of the renationalisation of the railways and mantras about the National Health Service. The assertion that Labour could run the NHS better than the Tories may be true, but it is not the battle hymn of a modern republic. It is at best well-meaning, at worst threadbare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about renationalising the railways while millions of people move across the world because of famine, war and climate change.

The centre left in British politics is in retreat, and the demise of the Labour Party has the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Ironically, history will show that Labour’s fatal flaw lay in its spectacular success.

Labour is, in essence, a party of the 20th century, and in those 100 years it did more to advance the freedom and well-being of working people and the disadvantaged than any other political movement in history. The aspirations of the founding fathers – access to education, health and welfare; equality before the law; collective organisation; universal franchise – have all to a large extent been achieved. The party’s record of racial and religious tolerance has been a beacon in a century of repression. These achievements have been enshrined in the fabric of British society and reproduced across the world.

The success brought deserved, unprecedented power and created political fortresses across the industrial heartlands of Britain. But with power, the party became increasingly moribund and corrupt. The manipulation of the union block vote at party conferences became a national disgrace. The Labour heartlands, particularly Scotland, were treated like rotten boroughs, and were too often represented by union placemen.

Instead of seeking a new radicalism appropriate to the challenges of the age, New Labour sought to ambush the Tories on the management of market capital and to outflank them on law and order: a fool’s errand. It inevitably succumbed to another form of corruption based on hubris and deceit, resulting in attacks on civil liberty, financial disaster and catastrophic war.

The reaction has been to lurch back to the status quo. The extraordinary fall from a massive majority of 179 in 1997 to a political basket case has been blamed on the false dichotomy between Blairism and the old, unionised Labour. Both have contributed to the disaster in equal measure.

I believe desperately in the politics of the 21st century, and Labour is at best paying lip service to it – epitomised in its failure to engage in the Brexit debate, which I was horrified by. The Liberal Democrats are far from perfect, but they have been consistent on Europe, as they were in their opposition to the Iraq War and on civil liberties. They deserve support.

But it’s a serious wrench. I’m leaving friends, and it hurts. Jeremy Corbyn was a political ally of mine on a number of serious issues. We made common cause on Tony Blair’s assaults on civil liberty and the Iraq War, and we went to Gaza together. He has many of the right ideas, but he simply has not moved into addressing the major problems.

To be blunt, I don’t think Corbyn is leadership material, but that is aside from politics. You need skills as a leader, and I don’t think he’s got them, but I was prepared to stick it out to see what happened. It has been a great, gradual disappointment, and Brexit has brought it all to the fore.

Frankly, I was surprised that he announced he was a Remainer, because I know that his natural sympathies have lain with a small cadre within Labour – an old-fashioned cadre that holds that any form of trade bloc among relatively wealthy nations is an abhorrence. It’s not: it’s the way forward. Yet there are people who believe that, and I know he has always been sympathetic to them.

But by signing up and then doing nothing, you sell the pass. Labour was uniquely qualified to confront the deliberate falsehoods trumpeted about the NHS – the absurd claims of massive financial dividends to offset the loss of doctors
and nurses already packing their bags – and it failed. Throughout that campaign, the Labour leadership was invisible, or worse.

At present, there is a huge vacuum on the centre left, represented in substantial part by an angry 48 per cent of the electorate who rejected Brexit and the lies on which it was based. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. There is no sign from Labour that the issue is even to be addressed, let alone actively campaigned on. The Labour leadership has signed up to Brexit and, in doing so, rejected the principles of international co-operation that Europe has fostered for half a century. That is not a place I want to be.

The failure to work with, or even acknowledge, other political parties is doctrinaire lunacy. And it will end very badly, I think. The centre left has an obligation to coalesce, and to renege on that obligation is reneging on responsibility. Not to sit on the same platform as other parties during the Brexit debate is an absurd statement of political purity, which has no place at all in modern politics.

The Liberal Democrats have grasped the political challenges of the 21st century as surely as their predecessors in the Liberal Party failed to comprehend those that faced the world a century ago. For that reason, I will sign up and do my best to lend support in my political dotage. After nearly 50 years as a Labour man, I do so with a heavy heart – but at least with some radical hope for my grandchildren.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was the Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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