The Spice Girls have given us a politics lesson: partisanship, like friendship, never ends

We can’t expect celebrities to be political and then say “stop right now, thank you very much” when they don’t agree with us. 

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The announcement of the Spice Girls’ reunion (well, four-fifths of the Spice Girls) sent pop fans into such hysteria that many are only just coming up for air. But bizarrely – or since we’re in 2018, totally predictably – an interview with the band has caused a stir online for its political content.

When asked about politics, Geri Horner, or “Ginger Spice”, called on Brits to “come together” and support Theresa May. She told the Sun: “Britain, come together whatever it is, come together and sort our solutions out together […] We don't have to agree on politics, it's bigger than that. You can just support a woman doing the best she can”. Emma Bunton also advocated for “people power”, a spin on the band’s famous “girl power” message from the 1990s.

Fans immediately pounced on this message, leading to speculation over the band members’ political beliefs. For her defence of May, Horner was dubbed “Brexit Spice” on Twitter. This isn’t the first time that she has got into hot water for discussing politics. Following the death of Margaret Thatcher in 2013, Horner posted a tweet praising the first female prime minister. She eventually deleted the tweet following backlash and penned a blog explaining her decision, calling herself “weak” for deleting it.

But in 1996, the Spice Girls were remarkably frank about their political views in an interview with the Spectator. Melanie Brown described herself as an “anarchist” who doesn’t vote. Melanie Chisolm said that, while she no longer votes, she has voted Labour previously and strongly criticised Margaret Thatcher. Geri described herself as a Tory, saying: “socialism is bad – you work for your living and you deserve to keep what you've earned”. But while she spoke of her love for “Maggie” she described her legacy as “mixed”.

Victoria Beckham went even further, describing the EU as a “terrible trick” on the British people and the new maroon passports as “revolting”. She even said that “Euro-bureaucrats are destroying every bit of national identity and individuality”. Though, like many people, Beckham’s views have changed. After her husband David came out in support of a Remain vote in 2016, Leave.EU tweeted Victoria’s words from the 1996 interview, saying: “should’ve listened to the missus, David”. This caused former Posh Spice to clarify her views on Instagram. She said: “I believe in my country, I believe in a future for my children where we are stronger together and I support the remain campaign”.

Whether Ginger Spice – or any other Spice Girl for that matter – is today a Tory remains unknown. But what is equally perplexing is why anyone cares? The Spice Girls became famous because of an overarching message of infectious positivity, inclusiveness and cheekiness that is entirely divorced of politics. Their entire appeal is based on a separation from such things. It’s not as if the chorus of “Spice Up Your Life”, in which the girls sing: “Slam it to the left (If you're havin' a good time), Shake it to the right, (If ya know that you feel fine)” is referring to Labour and the Tories in the House of Commons bar. Nor was “2 Become 1” about the hope for a united Ireland.

When artists have avoided making political messages an integral feature of their work, is it fair of us to force them to make political statements? Taylor Swift’s endorsement of Democratic candidates in the mid-term elections saw youth voter registrations spike, particularly in her home state of Tennessee. In 2016, “who is Taylor Swift voting for?” was among the most Googled questions on election day, most likely by young fans. But it is unlikely that, at this stage, anyone is sitting anxiously awaiting Ginger Spice’s endorsement before deciding who to vote for. In the context of the Spice Girls, whether Geri “really, really really wants” a conservative government seems irrelevant.

In the last decade the tectonic plates of politics and pop-culture have shifted. In the 1990s and even 2000s, it was normal to hear people say they don’t vote because they “aren’t political” or “politics doesn’t matter”. But following the turbulence and division of recent years, hearing this is now rare. These days we expect celebrities to be politically educated, astute and articulate.

The Spice Girls’ Spectator interview was seen as “refreshing” in the late Nineties, but today they would get destroyed on social media for making such sweeping statements that often weren’t based on facts. Plenty of the Spice Girls’ lyrics wouldn’t be acceptable now either (“Yellow man in Timbuktu”, I’m looking at you).

Though we can’t have it both ways. Some celebrities, often very wealthy individuals who spend their time hanging out with similarly well-off people, are going to be Tories. Horner grew up in the south of England, where the electoral map is overwhelmingly blue, so she’s clearly not alone if she is indeed a Conservative voter. We can’t expect celebrities to be political, but say “stop right now, thank you very much” when they don’t agree with us – as long as they aren’t supporting extremists and pay their taxes, that is.

It is a grim reflection on these divided times that there is no space for a group who spent years preaching “girl power!” to speak kindly of a female prime minister. If there had ever been a Labour woman PM or even leader, the band would have likely spoken warmly of her too – perhaps the fact that they haven’t been given the opportunity to do so is more deserving of outrage. In tentatively airing their views, the Spice Girls have accidentally taught us a political lesson: partisanship, just like friendship, never ends.