A publicity event took place the other day. That is, it wasn't actually an event at all, just a moment when the encompassing vapour of PR briefly coalesced into a visible nebula. And the visibility wasn't a by-product of some larger energy, it was the sole point. A large record store had decided to celebrate its birthday by commissioning a survey into the musical tastes of Britain's MPs, thus combining their own commercial desire for a name check with the incontinent eagerness of politicians to give out their opinions. And, whatever your feelings about the fact that 101 MPs have nothing better to do with their time than fill in questionnaires about their musical taste, the resulting document was irresistible.

It wasn't that it was particularly surprising to find that classical music came top of the overall genre listings, or that dance music should figure high in the Tory hit parade (the compilers add a useful footnote explaining that the term was understood by most respondents to refer to swing bands or ballet - thus destroying the enchanting vision of Sir Marcus Fox, a whistle clamped between his teeth as he frugs wildly to drum 'n' bass). But when it comes to more specific questions, the power of pop songs to encapsulate character is undeniable. This is hardly a novel discovery, of course - Desert Island Discs rests on the assumption that to choose is to confess, and above all to choose pop songs, which has long been one of the more socially hazardous exercises of taste. (It isn't absolutely unique in this - if you wish to admit a liking for certain films, in certain circles, you had better go armed with a package of defensive measures - "No, no ... it isn't kitsch ... it's about kitsch.") But pop music's brevity and promiscuity (it is always ready for action) means that it can insinuate itself into our private memories with particular ease. Add that to the way in which a remembered melody can carbon-date a recollection and you have the perfect emotional calender. The point is well made in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity - a funny, wise novel about a man who measures out his life in A-sides. Under emotional strain he rearranges his record collection: "Tonight ... I fancy something different, so I try to remember the order I bought them in: that way I hope to write my autobiography, without having to do anything like pick up a pen."

In one of its questions the survey employs the same method, asking MPs to name the first record they bought. Naturally, one has to take this sort of thing with a pinch of salt, politicians being what they are. It seems more than likely that some will have edited history in favour of more respectable choices. The absence of Tony Blair from the respondents might, perhaps, be explained by the fact that his private office agonised for so long over the potential electoral liabilities of different pop songs that they eventually missed the deadline. But some of the answers could hardly be an invention. Anne Widdecombe confesses to "All Kinds of Everything" by Dana, which strikes one as absolutely perfect - a secular sanctimony that would cause no unseemly disturbances at the youth club disco. Robin Corbett, Labour member for Birmingham, Erdington, saved his pennies for "Joe Hill" by Paul Robeson, presumably a big hit at Woodcraft Folk summer camps, while Charles Kennedy, with a precocious instinct for the middle ground, bought Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits and Tubular Bells.

The list of most recent purchases updates the picture: Anne Widdecombe is now getting on down to gregorian chant, while Charles Kennedy has just purchased George Michael's Older (no data available for Robin Corbett). The best question of all, though, is the most playful, in which MPs are asked to fantasise about the party that would follow their election as Prime Minister. Some responses sniff of a trawl through the reference books - several MPs choose Alice Cooper's "Elected", for example, and Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" clearly makes it in for its title alone. Others are more mischievous, like Kevin Barron's selection of "I Lie For You and That's the Truth". But the party you would most like to attend is easy. If Sir Teddy Taylor is ever elected to Number 10, those venerable walls, he claims, will thump and pound to the steampress bass of Bob Marley (Sir Teddy's most recent purchase, incredibly, is said to be Soul Almighty). Behind the curtains, presumably, Sir Teddy and his cronies will sit in splendour, cradling spliffs the size of carrots (Commonwealth produce, naturally) and singing along with particularly raucous glee as Bob croons, "In a gubberment yaard in Trenchtown". If it isn't true, it should be.

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