It would be so nice to have dear old Malcolm as mayor

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The Independent Culture
GOOD OLD Malcolm McLaren has surfaced again, and, as happens whenever he does so, reminds you of how much things have changed since his glorious heyday. He's come back to our attention in a way that any practised observer of celebrity politics ought to have been able to predict. The man credited with inventing punk, all those years ago, has decided that he's going to be running for Mayor of London, and has popped up to tout his manifesto all over town.

The manifesto itself is a grave disappointment, I must say, consisting as it does of things that anyone might think up in 10 seconds flat - brothels outside the Houses of Parliament, legalised cannabis, bars in libraries so that you can "drink a glass of Guinness while reading Dickens". That sort of thing, deriving roughly from the late Screaming Lord Sutch in its general air of "I'm mad, me". The only surprising thing is that it's cannabis that McLaren wants to legalise - I always understood that among the first punks, speed was the drug of choice, but there you go.

Though he certainly has a point when he talks about the dullness of London now - all that cappuccino culture, all those talentless celebs - I wonder whether he has quite understood the full nature of his appeal. I certainly get a nice warm feeling all over whenever I think of him. Dear old Malcolm. Darling little safety-pins in those gorgeous black bin-liners. Heavenly, heavenly green mohicans. What in the world could be nicer than that?

I can't help thinking that punk has now subsided thoroughly into the realm of nostalgia. When that ghastly old Sporty Spice turned up at a rock festival this summer to pogo her way through a notably weedy "Anarchy in the UK", you knew that the process of assimilation was complete. Punks always looked rather terrifying, but were notoriously extremely sweet and kindly people personally. And now that it all happened nearly a quarter of a century ago, we can all look back and think how much fun it was, really; dying your hair and poncing up and down the King's Road and charging clapped-out Americans to take your photograph and pogoing and...

In fact, the power of nostalgia is so great that it sucks you in and persuades you that you were there even if, like me, you were 12 years old and observing the whole thing with huge distant admiring envy from the sticks. Still, there is the music, Siouxsie Sioux and X-Ray Spex, the Stranglers, the Sex Pistols and Toyah. Younger readers may be a little shocked to find Toyah Wilcox in this list, and perhaps they are right to be shocked; in the Seventies, she was one of those scary punks, but it only takes a brief viewing of one of her old appearances on Top of the Pops to realise that, in fact, there was always a cosy centre to her, which would find its proper level as a presenter of one of the BBC's many holiday programmes.

Perhaps there was always something sweet and harmless about punk, despite all appearances. McLaren, in his manifesto, has been complaining about the blandness of London now, and comparing it with the radical fury of punk; he calls it a "useful protest". But what was it protesting about? Of course, there was a great deal of talk about anarchy, there were a lot of songs about urban disaffection. But, in the end, wasn't it just a divine style statement? If it was a protest movement, what did it achieve? Who won the first general election after the invention of punk?

All the same, no one can doubt that McLaren is right, and London was much more fun 20 years ago. The whole thing is utterly over now, and for the first time in living memory, this has been a decade without any kind of gleefully offensive mid-decade youth movement, designed entirely to insult the elders. Even if punk seems quite sweet now, it certainly didn't then. The Forties had jitterbug; the Fifties rock 'n' roll; the Sixties peace 'n' love; the Seventies punk; the Eighties dance and techno. And what have the young of the Nineties managed to come up with? Shania bleeding Twain.

Yes, one feels an overpowering nostalgia for punk, an overpowering desire to go back to some England where raucous riot and spontaneous vulgar ruderies were at the heart of youth culture, and not the willing contracts with commerce which, it sometimes seems, are all anyone under the age of 25 wants now.

Whether Malcolm McLaren, in the unlikely event of his being elected Mayor of London, would be able to galvanise any of the weedy adolescents of the age into anything very much is very doubtful. They all seem to want to be models and make money, which is fairly worrying when you consider that any decent generation since the beginning of time has mainly wanted to offend their parents, get very very drunk, and change the world. For the first time in recorded history, middle-aged parents can sit down with their children's favourite records and find that here is something the whole family can enjoy.

If, on the other hand, the children get back early from Steps Night at the youth club, and find their mum and dad, with a look of blissed-out nostalgia, pogoing round the lounge to the favourite sounds of their youth, they might find the noise emanating from the ancient record player altogether too much to bear.

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