The NS Interview: Annie Lennox

“I’m not going to use my sexuality to define me”

What do you think of yourself as first, an advocate or a musician?
I have different hats; I'm a mother, I'm a woman, I'm a human being, I'm an artist and hopefully I'm an advocate. All of those plates are things I spin all the time.

Will you always make music?
I only want to make music because I have a passion for it. The momentum of success that we had as the Eurythmics was so powerful that
I couldn't get off the bus for a decade. I got to my thirties and suddenly felt that I didn't have a life - it was just about travelling and touring and making albums. Money is a good thing and it's obviously useful, but to work only for money or fame would never interest me.

Is there a positive side to fame?
It certainly has something of value if you are famous for doing good work or creating great art. Fame for fame's sake is toxic - some people want that, with no boundaries. It's unhealthy.

What was the significance of your androgynous style?
It was about being in a partnership, in a duo with a man. In a way, it was saying: we are equals and I'm not going to use my sexuality to define me. I'm going to be as good as a man. I'm even going to make you wonder what I am.

Would that work nowadays?
That was then. I thought that things could progress, but nobody is thinking along those lines any more. Sex sells. It sells cars, shampoos, everything. The message to young women is: "You look a certain way and that's powerful." Well, it's not, actually.

Are you troubled by mass culture being so sexualised?
There's no problem for me with sexuality itself. We're all sexual creatures. But it troubles me when hardcore misogyny is used in such a generic and accepted way. Playing into that - the game of "the whore" - might make women some money, but it is not truly empowering.

Do we still need feminism?
Feminism is a word that I identify with. The term has become synonymous with vitriolic man-hating but it needs to come back to a place where both men and women can embrace it. It is particularly important for women in developing countries.

Have you ever experienced sexism?
In ways, of course - it's part of society; it could just be a patronising comment - but compared to the disparity that I've seen in the developing world, my experience of sexism is minuscule.

Is charity the best way to help the developing world?
Charity is necessary - as is aid - but I agree with the argument that we should be teaching people to help themselves. However, it should be a human right for a mother to have access to life-saving treatment. We can get Coca-Cola spread across the world; why not vital drugs?

What do you think of the coalition government?
When I was a kid, grown-ups identified themselves with a party and it was very cut and dried. Nowadays to say you're left- or right-wing - no onereally knows what that means any more. In a way, the coalition represents where we're at. We're in the middle of nowhere: a bit right-wing, a bit left-wing, a bit in the middle.

Is there a plan?
You make a plan because you have to. I recognised that I wanted to be a singer-songwriter back in the 1970s, but a lot of it is timing, fluke, determination. If I were to write down my life as a game of snakes and ladders, I would be going up the ladders and down the snakes all the time. That's kind of how it seems to work.

Is religion a part of your life?
I've nothing against anybody who has a faith, but I look at organised religion and I'm appalled by what I see, the hypocrisy and the double standards. The universe is an extraordinary place, but bigotry comes in and spoils it.

Is there anything you'd rather forget?
One wants to forget bad experiences, disappointments, but you have to deal with your own unfinished business - it's almost like you have to spin it into gold. You have to look really hard at your bitterness, your destructive tendencies and your knee-jerk reactions, and say: "How do I take responsibility for myself?"

Do you vote?
For many years I didn't. I thought: I don't believe in this political system, so not voting is valid. Then I voted Labour in 1997. But I was disgusted and hugely disillusioned by the invasion of Iraq. If I'm going to vote, I want to believe 100 per cent in who I'm voting for. So I'm back to not voting.

Are we all doomed?
Well, we're all going to die. The sooner we accept that life is temporary, the easier we can be about our living.

Defining Moments

1954 Born on Christmas Day in Aberdeen
1980 Forms Eurythmics with Dave Stewart
1990 Leaves Eurythmics to concentrate on family and work for Shelter
1992 Releases her debut solo album, Diva. It goes to number one in the UK
2007 Becomes Oxfam global ambassador
2010 Is appointed Unesco's goodwill ambassador on Aids
2011 Sets up Equals, a network of charities, to mark 100th International Women's Day

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Hands up who knows how to fix our schools

Ralph Steadman for the New Statesman.
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Tim Farron: Theresa May is "the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party"

The Liberal Democrat leader on his faith, Blairism and his plan to replace Labour as the opposition. 

This is Tim Farron’s seventh general election. His first was in 1992, when his Tory opponent was a 36-year-old called Ther­esa May. He was just 21 and they were both unsuccessful candidates in the Labour fortress of North-West Durham. He recalls talking “to a bunch of ex-miners who weren’t best pleased to see either of us, some kid Liberal and some Tory”. Now he sees his former and current opponent as “the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party . . . I think it has rendered Ukip almost pointless – she is Ukip now.”

May was elected to parliament in 1997, but it took Farron until 2005 to join her. She leads the dominant Conservatives while he heads a party of only nine Liberal Democrat MPs. Still, their reversal of fortunes gives him hope. “After the 1992 election, every­one said there’s no way for a non-Tory government, and it turned out there was. So let’s not assume it’s a given there’s a Tory government [for ever].”

In April, I accompanied Farron to Manchester Gorton, in the lead-up to a by-election that was cancelled by May’s decision to call a snap election on 8 June. Still, the 46-year-old’s party has been in campaign mode for months; Lib Dems spoke of using last December’s Richmond Park by-election to test their messaging. It clearly had an effect: the incumbent Conservative, Zac Goldsmith, lost to their candidate, Sarah Olney.

Brexit, to which the Liberal Democrats are vehemently opposed, will be a dominant theme of the election. Their party membership has just exceeded 100,000, close to an all-time high, and they have enjoyed much success in council by-elections, with more to come in the local elections of 4 May.

However, any feel-good factor swiftly evaporated when Farron appeared on Channel 4 News on 18 April. He was asked by the co-presenter Cathy Newman whether or not he believes that homosexuality is a sin, a question that he answered obliquely in 2015 by saying that Christianity started with acknowledging that “we’re all sinners”.

This time, he told Newman, he was “not in the position to make theological announcements over the next six weeks . . . as a Liberal, I’m passionate about equality”.

The Channel 4 interview divided opinion. One Liberal politician told me that Farron’s stance was “completely intolerable”. Stephen Pollard, the influential editor of the Jewish Chronicle, described it as
“a very liberal position: he holds certain personal views but does not wish to legislate around them”. Jennie Rigg, the acting chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, said it was “as plain as the nose on my face that Tim Farron is no homophobe”.

Farron declined the chance to clarify his views with us in a follow-up phone call, but told the BBC on 25 April: “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” adding, “On reflection, it makes sense to actually answer this direct question since it’s become an issue.”

For his critics, Farron’s faith and politics are intertwined. He sees it differently, as he told Christian Today in 2015: “. . . the danger is sometimes that as a Christian in politics you think your job is to impose your morality on other people. It absolutely isn’t.”

Tim Farron joined the then Liberal Party at the age of 16 but didn’t become a Christian until he was 18. Between completing his A-levels in Lancashire and going to Newcastle University to read politics, he read the apologetics, a body of Christian writing that provides reasoned arguments for the gospel story. “I came to the conclusion that it was true,” he told me. “It wasn’t just a feel-good story.”

In speeches, Farron now takes on the mannerisms of a preacher, but he had a largely non-religious upbringing in Preston, Lancashire. “I don’t think I’d been to church once other than Christmas or the odd wedding,” he says. “I went once with my dad when I was 11, for all the good that did me.”

When we meet, it is Theresa May’s religion that is in the spotlight. She has condemned the National Trust for scrubbing the word “Easter” from its Easter egg hunt, a row it later emerged had been largely invented by the right-wing press in response to a press release from a religious-themed chocolate company.

“It’s worth observing there’s no mention of chocolate or bunny rabbits in the Bible,” Farron reminds me. “When people get cross about, in inverted commas, ‘us losing our Christian heritage’ they mean things which are safe and comfortable and nostalgic.” He pauses. “But the Christian message at Easter is shocking, actually, and very radical.”

British politics is tolerant of atheists (such as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) alongside those who, like David Cameron, are culturally Christian but whose faith is “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. But the reaction to Farron’s equivocation on homosexuality prompted many to wonder if a politician who talks openly about his faith is now seen as alarming. Nebulous wishes of peace and love at Christmas, yes; sincere discussions of the literal truth of the Resurrection? Hmm.

Tim Farron’s beliefs matter because he has a mission: to replace not only Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition but Theresa May in Downing Street. Over lassis at the MyLahore curry house in Manchester, he tells me that Britain is facing two calamities. “One is Brexit, indeed hard Brexit . . . and the other is a Tory government for 25 years. We have to present a genuine, progressive alternative that can not only replace Labour as an opposition, it can replace the Tories as a government.” This is ambitious talk for a party with nine MPs. “I understand the ridicule that will be thrown at me for saying those things: but if you don’t want to run the country, why are you in politics?” He pauses. “That’s a question I would ask most people leading the Labour Party at present.”

What does he think of May, his one-time opponent in North-West Durham? “She strikes me as being very professional, very straightforward, somebody who is very conservative in every sense of the word, in her thought processes, her politics, in her style.” He recalls her 2002 conference speech in which she warned Tory activists: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us: the nasty party.”

“In many ways, she was the trailblazer for Cameron in being a softer-focused Tory,” he says. “It now looks like she’s been trapped by the very people she was berating as the nasty party all those years ago. I like to think that isn’t really her. But that means she isn’t really in control of the Conservative Party.”

Voters, however, seem to disagree. In recent polls, support for the Conservatives has hovered between 40 and 50 per cent. Isn’t a progressive alliance the only way to stop her: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all working together to beat the Tories?

“Let’s be really blunt,” he says. “Had Jeremy Corbyn stood down for us in Richmond Park [where Labour stood Christian Wolmar], we would not have won. I could have written Zac Goldsmith’s leaflets for you: Corbyn-backed Liberal Democrats.

“I’m a pluralist,” he adds. “But any progressive alliance has got to be at least equal to the sum of its parts. At the moment, it would be less than the sum of its parts. The only way the Tories are losing their majority is us gaining seats in Hazel Grove –” he ticks them off with his fingers, “– in Cheadle, in the West Country and west London. There’s no chance of us gaining those seats if we have a kind of arrangement with the current Labour Party in its current form.”

What about the SNP? “Most sensible people would look at that SNP manifesto and agree with 99 per cent of it,” Farron says. “But it’s that one thing: they want to wreck the country! How can you do a deal with people who want to wreck the country?”

There’s no other alternative, he says. Someone needs to step up and offer “something that can appeal to progressive younger voters, pro-Europeans and, you know, moderate-thinking Middle England”. He wants to champion a market economy, strong public services, action on climate change, internationalism and free trade.

That sounds like Blairism. “I’m a liberal, and I don’t think Blair was a liberal,” he replies. “But I admire Blair because he was somebody who was able to win elections . . . Iraq aside, my criticisms of Blair are what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do.”

Turning around the Tory tide – let alone with just nine MPs, and from third place – is one hell of a job. But Farron takes heart from the Liberal Party in Canada, where Justin Trudeau did just that. “I’m not Trudeau,” he concedes, “He was better-looking, and his dad was prime minister.”

There is a reason for his optimism. “I use the analogy of being in a maze,” he says, “You can’t see a way out of it, for a progressive party to form a majority against the Tories. But in every maze, there is a way out. We just haven’t found it yet.” 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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

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