The sad death of The Beat vocalist Ranking Roger triggered memories of a halcyon age of political pop. Back in the 1980s, his band led the charge against Thatcherism with the rousing anthem Stand Down Margaret, one of several highly-hummable hits to take a pop at the Iron Lady.
Mrs T’s disdain for popular culture was the stuff of legend but her legacy to a music scene she held in great contempt was to turn a generation of ska, soul, reggae and indie bands on to politics. Alongside The Beat’s polite request for her resignation (“stand down, please”) there were less courteous demands from Morrissey – Margaret on the Guillotine; Elvis Costello – Tramp The Dirt Down; and The Blow Monkeys – (Celebrate) The Day After You. Not to mention Red Wedge, Billy Bragg and those hardcore, anti-elitist, anarcho-punks from Crass, whose How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of A 1000 Dead? envisaged a Thatch-free future.
“I think she was a fairy godmother,” declared Crass co-founder Penny Rimbaud. “You’re an anarchist band and you get someone like Thatcher. What a joy!”
Which is probably the same way those hardcore, anti-elitist, anarcho-punks in the European Research Group view Theresa May.
One of the best of that wonderful crop, written 40 years ago, was Eton Rifles. Paul Weller’s howl of anger was a call to arms against ruling-class privilege, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Jacob Rees- Mogg and his public school chums appropriated it as their theme tune. “What chance have you got,” sings Weller, “against a tie and a crest?” Mrs May knows the feeling.
The ERG’s demand that the prime minister should quit before the next phase of negotiations confirmed Brexit as an anti-elitist revolt led by an elite. It was a reminder that, four decades on, politics remains the preserve of the wealthy and privately educated. As does the media; writing in this week’s Radio Times, Michael Buerk argues that journalism remains a “fashionable career for our gilded youth. You have to have wealthy parents with contacts to support you, preferably living close to central London.”
Despite posing as an anti-establishment faction, the Moggites are part of a narrow clique which thinks it was born to rule. As Palash Dave, who went to Eton in the 80s, admitted: ”Kids arrived there with this extraordinary sense that they knew they were going to run the country.” In plotting to install their poster boy Boris Johnson as the 20th Old Etonian to become prime minister, they are attempting a very British coup. Stand down, Theresa, stand down please.
This point was hilariously made by cult comedian Matt Berry in Tuesday’s mockumentary The Road to Brexit. Referring to the Leave campaign’s privately-educated talismans – Mogg, Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage – his arrogant, bombastic and downright peculiar “rogue historian” Michael Squeamish explained that “as part of a school project they all schemed together to come up with a new Britain. A Britain that would physically no longer be part of Europe. It would relocate somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean and everyone living there would have safari suits and speak like the late Brian Sewell”.
These days, it is such absurdist comedy rather than political pop that is pricking the pomposity of a self-serving political class which has left the country teetering on the edge of a cliff. Instead of hummable hits, we now look to faux documentaries.
First we had Alan Partridge and The Day Today crowd. Then Philomena Cunk: “Britain stands at a fork in its crossroads. Its people are asking questions. Now we’ve got our country back, what actually is it? Who are we? And why?” And now Berry/Squeamish, who takes great delight in satirising the clueless, chinless clowns masquerading as grown-up politicians.
Today was going to be Brexit Day. We were supposed to be leaving the EU. Instead it is Groundhog Day. Another 24 hours, one assumes, of farcical shenanigans.
Maybe there will be a breakthrough on Monday, when MPs are due to hold more votes. This, of course, is April Fools’ Day.
When it comes to surreal satire, how do you compete with the real-life absurdities of Brexit?