The wrong way to get these parties started

'Young people' are not stupid. Their attention will not be held by an earl saying he likes Meat Loaf

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The 17-year old great-niece of Milton Friedman took the Conservative Party conference by storm this week with a speech pointing out where they were all going wrong. Having read her great-uncle's panegyric to laissez-faire economics,
Capitalism and Freedom, when she was 14, she was in no doubt; politics was failing to connect with young people.

The 17-year old great-niece of Milton Friedman took the Conservative Party conference by storm this week with a speech pointing out where they were all going wrong. Having read her great-uncle's panegyric to laissez-faire economics, Capitalism and Freedom, when she was 14, she was in no doubt; politics was failing to connect with young people.

It wasn't, however, for the lack of trying. The party conferences seemed obsessed with seeming groovy in small, humiliating ways. Mindful of the point every student debater now makes, that more young people vote for Big Brother contestants than for parliamentary candidates - can this really be true? - both major parties seemed convinced that there was one way to attract the attention of the young. And it wasn't with books by Milton Friedman.

For years now, the Labour Party has been using some plausible rock anthem to embody their ambitions. At the 1997 election, it was D:Ream's "Things Can Only Get Better"; not necessarily a particularly ambitious programme for government, you might think, but it caught to an embarrassingly honest degree the anyone-but-this-lot feelings with which electorates tend to turf out governments.

Since then, it's been getting rather stranger. At this year's conference, one wonders whether anyone had really listened to the words of the Levellers' "Beautiful Day", which boomed out over the auditorium. Or, alternatively, the choice of music may have been in the hands of some Old Labour fifth columnist in the Blairite ranks: certainly this was the only occasion all week in which the sentiment "wealth re-distribution became the new solution" was at all likely to be voiced with official approval.

Whether or not the Levellers, or Pink, subsequently, and oddly, abjuring the Labour delegates to "get this party started" would approve of being used in this context, such uplifting anthems are regularly annexed by politicians these days. Poor old Fatboy Slim is a regular victim; "Praise You" was a favourite of the Al Gore presidential campaign, and "Right Here, Right Now" turned up at the Labour conference. What could either of them mean in a political context? Did anyone think whether it was a bright idea for modern moralising politicians to be associated with an amiable, fast-living party animal such as Mr Norman Cook?

Apparently not. At the Conservative conference, things took a weirder turn when senior members of the party were asked to take part in a video presentation and, among other things, confess what their last CD purchase had been. Clearly, they had all been told that they were not to say, for instance, "Glazunov's third symphony - frightfully underrated". Nicholas Soames, surely, put an end to a career - not his own - by saying that he was fond of Dido. Michael Ancram played safe with Meat Loaf - I don't know why, but I can definitely see a career as a tribute act here when he tires of being shadow foreign secretary. Tim Collins nervously said Will Young, then covered himself still further by saying that it was for his wife, actually. But Dr Liam Fox claimed to like the Scissor Sisters.

That last one is so bizarre that it has to be genuine. No spin doctor could possibly advise a politician to align himself with a band so totally unknown to the party faithful, and anyone who knows the band will be frankly incredulous at the idea of Dr Fox - no, dear, not that Dr Fox - listening to such tales of crystal amphetamine abuse, rent boys and general debauchery as "Filthy/Gorgeous" and "Tits on the Radio" ("There ain't no tits on the radio/Oh no," sing the Sisters, who perhaps are not often up in time for the Today programme.)

Does he join in with "When you're running from a trick/And you trip on a hit of acid/You gotta work for the man/But your biggest moneymaker's flaccid"? It is a nice thought, but the mind shrinks from the scene. Or was it a complicated joke about the Tory party and Theresa May's summary of their public image? "Cuz you're filthy/Ooh and I'm gorgeous/You're disgusting/Ooh and you're nasty?" Nothing seems impossible, once you've succeeded in accepting Liam Fox's singalongs.

The truth is that politicians are completely wasting their time trying to use rock music as evidence of their with-it, cool, down-and-dirty, off-their-faces, down-with-the-kids credibility. Let's face it: these are people who have been known to hang out with Ann Widdecombe. No one could possibly be influenced, at a general election, by the consideration that some politicians like pop music. If anything, it's more likely to make people stay away from the ballot box out of sheer embarrassment. "Young people" are no more stupid than anyone else; their attention is not going to be held by an elderly earl saying how much he likes Meat Loaf.

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