David Lister: Politics and pop culture rarely mix

Share
Related Topics

Why is it that when MPs say anything about culture, they tend to make fools of themselves? It can even apply to arts ministers. I witnessed one of the worst (or best, depending on how in need of a laugh one is) examples of this when the then Conservative arts minister Stephen Dorrell spoke at the Cannes Film Festival.

The festival was at the time screening a season in honour of the incomparable French actress Jeanne Moreau. "I would", said Mr Dorrell, "like to pay tribute to a great Frenchman." People have been guillotined for less.

He's not alone, though. MPs, ministers, prime ministers can cope with the minutiae of global economics and global warming but turn white and start stammering when asked to comment on the last movie that they have seen.

The latest example of culture shock has come from Liverpool where the prospective Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, 28-year-old Luciana Berger, a Londoner, was given a quiz by the local paper and did not know who Bill Shankly was, or who recorded the song "Ferry Cross the Mersey". At least she didn't venture a guess that Shankly had had a hit with the song. Her ignorance of matters close to the hearts of most Liverpudlians has provoked the actor and local boy Ricky Tomlinson from The Royle Family to consider standing against her in the coming election.

Well, I can understand Ricky's frustration. It's asking for trouble to try to be a representative of Liverpool and not know who Bill Shankly was. You can't even protest that football is only a game, as Shankly himself trumped that when the late Liverpool FC manager said that football wasn't a matter of life and death, "it's more important than that". I'm less sure that Ms Berger, who is only 28 after all, should be pilloried for not knowing that "Ferry 'Cross the Mersey" was taken into the charts by Gerry and the Pacemakers. It was a long time ago, and Gerry Marsden and his group weren't exactly The Beatles (notable Liverpool pop group, Ms Berger).

Besides, where should these quizzes and MPs' cultural knowledge begin and end? Should a Liverpool MP be expected to name the individual Pacemakers? I suspect that even Gerry Marsden would have to think for a minute to do that. Should a Liverpool MP know which famous actors started their career at the Everyman Theatre or which prize-winning novelists hail from the city? Then there are comedians, painters, conductors, opera singers, ballet dancers. (You still with us, Ricky?) Come to that, if you're meant to have heard of Bill Shankly, then surely in the interests of balance (and votes) you should be able to name Everton's league- and cup-winning manager of the same period.

They're dangerous things, these cultural quizzes. My advice to MPs, prospective or otherwise, is to steer clear of them. It would be nice to think that MPs could get immersed in the culture of their constituencies, but it probably won't make them any better or worse at their jobs. And as those of us who work in arts journalism or in the arts generally know to our cost, there are a lot of cultural anoraks out there with an infinite number of quiz questions to catch you out. Ms Berger can still be a fine MP, even if her brain is now addled with half-remembered songs by Bill Shankly and the Pacemakers.

Welcome back to the day job, Andrew

My thanks go to Andrew Lloyd Webber who allowed me to hear his new musical Love Never Dies and be the first journalist to write about it.

It was a slightly strange experience listening to a recording in the boardroom of his Really Useful Company next to the piano where he probably tried out a number of the songs, and surrounded by pictures of previous triumphs.

But I can report that Love Never Dies, which is the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera and premieres in the West End next month, sees the composer back on top form. The score is one of the most dramatic he has written, the story (which in its early stages had the involvement of novelist Frederick Forsyth) dark and disturbing, and there are at least two sure-fire hits.

All in all, I'd say that doing reality TV programmes with Graham Norton is all very well, but when you are able to compose musicals that will run for a decade or more, it's a good idea not to give up the day job. I'm pleased that he's returned to it.

The BBC can't make up its mind

Once there was an arts review programme on the BBC called Late Review. It then became part of Newsnight and was retitled Newsnight Review. When this happened I interviewed the head of BBC Arts. He told me that this was a significant event, one he had been personally fighting for, as it showed that a review of the cultural week was now important enough to be part of the nation's top current affairs programme.

But now Newsnight Review has been shunted off to Glasgow, removed from Newsnight, and retitled The Review Show. It is still hosted by BBC heavyweights Kirsty Wark and Martha Kearney. But what happened to the importance of it being part of Newsnight? No doubt, we will soon be reading an interview with a BBC chief telling us that it is important and significant that a review of the cultural week should have its own self-contained slot and not be subsumed into Newsnight.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Bid Manager, London

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Marketing Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Senior IT Systems Engineer - Southampton - £28k - £34K + bens

£28000 - £34000 per annum + pension, flexitime, healthcare: Deerfoot IT Resour...

Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

£33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: what if Hillary sticks, drowning sorrows and open sesame

John Rentoul
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor