DJ Taylor: The people's crud is deepest pink...

Standards have plunged in entertainment, as they have in politics and the art of rudeness. Plus, several gigs I didn't go to
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The Independent Online

All last week, as the row over bankers' bonuses reignited, and a new report forecast a post-retirement "squeeze" on middle-income families, the spectre of Pierre Poujade has drifted enticingly across the political landscape.

Poujade (1920-2003) may not be a name to conjure with on this side of the Channel, but in the 1950s the movement that bore his name whipped up a storm on the margins of the Fourth Republic and at one point amassed more than 50 deputies in the National Assembly. That its shadows are, even now, not entirely dispersed is confirmed by the presence of Marine Le Pen at the head of early opinion polls for next year's presidential election. It was Poujade, after all, who gave her father, Jean-Marie, his first big break.

Poujadism's platforms gave all the usual lower-middle-class right-wing grievances a Gallic airing: anti-tax, anti-state, virulently nationalistic, convinced that the "little man" – Poujade was a shopkeeper – was being sacrificed on the twin altars of corporatism and organised labour. Its success derived from the fact that it spoke for a part of the demographic whose interests are never adequately represented. Here in Britain, for example, there must be several million people who earn between £15,000 and £30,000 a year, who are violently opposed to Britain's European Union membership; regard multiculturalism as an expensive joke; and wonder why the Government doesn't do something about RBS boss Stephen Hester's umpteen million a year.

Who is there to represent their interests? The Conservative Party which used to be their natural home is too keen to suck up to big business. Labour has presided over the decay of practically every institution these people hold dear. Ukip is still tarred with the brush of minor-party eccentricity. No amount of sanitising will ever make the BNP respectable. The scope for a political party bent on upholding the rights of the British petit-bourgeoisie is enormous. Who knows, perhaps even now, out there in the debatable lands of the provincial suburbs, in the Essex boondocks, or the Luton backstreets, some English Poujade, his hour come at last, is slouching towards Westminster to be born?


Many a newspaper columnist in the early part of the week could be found amusing him or herself at the expense of luckless Prince Andrew. The Duke of York's supposed boorishness was made much of, as was his habit of inflicting what one commentator called "golf-club opinions" on people whose grasp of the subject under discussion probably exceeded his own. Throughout these critiques there lurked a suspicion that rudeness of the kind the Prince apparently brings to his daily routines is an upper-class trait, a seign-eurial incivility exclusive to blue blood and rolling acres. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For Prince Andrew's bracing personal manner, it must be said, isn't in the least studied. It is assumed in the same way as his morning suit, skiing costume or regimental ties. Real rudeness, on the other hand, is generally the province of the middle-class arriviste, who has had self-consciously to school himself in the art of making his presence felt. One sees this in the antics of the so-called "Brideshead Generation" of the inter-war era, whose most offensive elements were usually middle-class boys on the make. They included Evelyn Waugh, who when congratulated by a fan on the excellence of Brideshead Revisited, is said to have remarked that he had thought it pretty good, but now a vulgar American woman liked it, he wasn't so sure, or Robert Byron, who, when asked what he wanted to "be" in life, answered: "An incredibly beautiful male prostitute with a sharp sting in my bottom." Clearly Prince Andrew has some way to go.


It was fascinating to read the reviews of the ongoing X Factor Live Tour 2011. Generally the response has been one of tolerant disdain. The Independent's Luke Grundy described Wagner as "absolutely tuneless but wildly entertaining, a blend of circus act and karaoke night" before going on to declare that the musical quality "remained negligible throughout". At the same time, Mr Grundy was careful to make the point that the crowd loved it.

Here in a relativist age, where nobody wants to be seen "judging" other people's cultural preferences, the standard critical line on these occasions is that, yes, this is rubbish but that the punters are entitled to queue up for it if they choose. The curious thing is that, historically, the punters were not always so avid for tat. One of the striking findings of Jonathan Rose's monumental The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, inset above, is the huge popular enthusiasm expressed by the early 20th-century mass audience for what is now known as "high culture". In 1924 the Labour MP JR Clynes could be found campaigning for public subsidy for opera on the grounds that it was what his working-class constituents liked. One grows tired, 90 years later, of hearing about all the splendid cultural choices on offer to entertainment-seekers, when increasingly all they are being asked to choose is the single thing before them.


This week's New Musical Express carries an eye-catching feature on "100 Gigs You Should Have Been At". What featured on the list? Why, The Who at Woodstock. Nirvana at Reading. The Beatles and the Stones at the 1966 NME Poll-winner's Concert. Queen at Live Aid. Had I been to any of them? No. And would I have wanted to go? Oddly enough, despite a 35-year obsession with popular music, no.

The disadvantages of live music aren't always emphasised enough by excitable reviewers. If it isn't over-amplified to the point of constituting a health risk, then the act turns up late to play a truncated set (The Fall) or makes alienating efforts to elevate good old rock'n'roll to the level of an artistic happening (Lou Reed). Still, one never likes to be left out of one of these cultural rosters. Was there an event here with which I could claim some indirect attachment? Miraculously there was: the No 1 gig, the Sex Pistols at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4 June 1976. I wasn't there but, wonderful to relate, I know the man who organised it. Instantly all the exalted moments of one's professional life – the hobnobbing with Mario Vargas Llosa, the mute attendance on VS Naipaul as he dismissed the entire Castilian literary tradition before a petrified lunch-table audience – dwindled into insignificance.