Politicians are such tragic groupies

As self-made men and women, rock stars are often right-wing, selfish and materialistic
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The Independent Culture
FOR A publicity-seeking band with an album to plug, the Brits always offer the perfect platform.We will know by now whether last night's MP-studded event saw an ice bucket emptied over the head of a Labour politician.

Last year John Prescott's unlikely effort to appear trendy was doomed by Mr Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawamba. Last night there was no shortage of potential victims - from Cherie Blair to Chris Smith, from Mo Mowlam to Peter Hain, from George Robertson to Paul Boateng. By all accounts there were up to 60 MPs and a sizeable portion of the Cabinet at the London Docklands Arena. New Labour was rockin' in the aisles.

The parent of a victim of the Troubles in Ulster noted that he had been trying for a year to see Dr Mowlam. "If I were a pop star I'm sure they'd pay me more attention," he added.

You bet. There's no surer way of getting into earshot of New Labour than having a number at the top of the charts. But make sure it's the pop charts and not the classical charts, which count for far less in terms of street cred. Following last year's Brits, Peter Mandelson was asked, before his own exit from the charts, how many members of the Cabinet had ever attended a concert at the Wigmore Hall. He changed the subject.

Labour governments choose their stars carefully. They must have mass popular appeal and epitomise the height of fashion, cool and cutting edge. It's in fact far from a New labour phenomenon. It was old Labour in the form of Harold Wilson who first exploited the public relations coup of inviting them to Downing Street soirees. John Lennon even referred to him as "that nice Mr Wilson" on television. How could Edward Heath conducting a symphony orchestra compete with that?

Wilson's strategy was a seemingly clever one. The coming 1970 election was to allow 18-year-olds to vote for the first time. A trendy PM with pop star mates was more likely to get those first-timers on his side. But while The Beatles were built to last, some of Wilson's other guests at those soirees had a shelf life on their coolness. Who now remembers Kenny Lynch, a regular Downing Street visitor who repaid his hospitality most thoughtlessly by becoming solidly middle of the road?

That's the trouble with rock stars. They, their managers and their record company bosses are unpredictable. Worse. As self-made men and women they are more often than not right-wing, selfish and materialistic.

Blair has already had a lesson in the rock world's curious political mix of Sixties hippie philosophy and self-centred individualism. Blur's Damon Albarn savaged Labour at a press conference devoted to Labour's further-education policy. Alan McGhee, the man who discovered Oasis, was moved to describe Labour's welfare-to-work scheme as "soul-destroying, incredibly naive, ill-judged, unfair and Draconian, penalising the lifeblood of our cultural future".

In popspeak that counts as a measured response. As does Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie who,when asked if pop stars should go to Number Ten, replied: "Only with a pound of Semtex".

And the Cabinet has not yet responded to Jarvis Cocker's observation, not to be found in the New Labour manifesto, that "if you wanted to be in a band, or you wanted to be a painter, or you wanted to do anything, you'd go on the dole".

Logical? Who cares? Politically inconsistent? Probably. Essentially parasitic. Almost certainly. That is the core of a rock star's philosophy. And they are all the more charismatic for it. It is from politicians that we expect a measure of consistency and statesmanship, and a distancing from the mercurial, back-of-a-record-sleeve ideologies of the stars.

But there is a much better reason why New Labour should end its flirtation with pop, a flirtation that sometimes resembles the awe-struck blind devotion of the groupie. It is not just the resentment of the rest of the arts world, though that has certainly helped lead to Blair and Smith dropping all references to Cool Britannia.

It is a gut feeling, even - perhaps especially - among Blair's own generation, that rock equals rebellion; that both popular culture and society in general need an outrageous, nonconforming, egocentric element with a concentration span as short as a CD single. That this nonconforming element should inhabit a fantasy world of riches, sex, poetry, all in Bacchanalian dimensions.

That Dr Mowlam is a gifted politician but not a rock chick. That John Prescott should not share a hall with Chumbawamba. That one of rock music's targets should be the government of the day. As, inevitably, Mr Blair, one day it will be.

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