Don't tell me about re-branding Britain, you'll never get it anyway

The death of the cool
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The Independent Online
YOU could say that I am just put out because no one has asked me to be on Panel 2000, the gathering of 33 famous faces brought together to aid New Labour in presenting a "positive contemporary identity" to the rest of the world. But you would be wrong. I want no part of any welfare to work scheme even if it is one for creative celebrity types. I have to admit anyway that I lack the basic qualification. I have no idea really what the cool in Cool Britannia means. But perhaps I could be some consultant of anti-cool because I sure as hell recognise what its not. The re-branding of Britain involving New Labour, the Spice Girls, dress designers and lots of gadgets does not appear cool in any sense.

Each man kills the thing he loves - someone quite cool said that I believe - and so it is the way of the world that even intelligent politicians inevitably strangle at birth any idea that doesn't fit neatly into pre- conceived political categories. The notion of Cool Britannia floated a couple of years ago referred to a vague, transient, incoherent and organic phenomenon that was primarily cultural. Our artists, our musicians, our designers were producing an image of Britain through their work that seemed fresh. Though it referenced the past it felt modern and self-confident.

To try and harness such amorphous forces to promote anything other than themselves was always a bad idea. The intricate and complex relationship between culture and politics is hard to fathom. There is only one thing that you can be definite about: cultural change proceeds political change, therefore the spectacle of politicians trying to use these cultural undercurrents to shore up their own credibility is always bound to fail. There are those paid to read the changes, those paid to create the changes and those paid to manage them. All these groups have entirely different agendas, different motivations and live in entirely different worlds.

Blair Inc. mistook a youthful anti-Tory sentiment as an embrace when it was little more than a shrug. It all reminds me of an item, The Ant and Dec Show, a youth programme, in which every week some embarrassing Dad would be brought on stage. His crime was inevitably dancing during Top of the Pops, telling jokes to his teenage children or doing appalling impressions. The Dad would perform while his offspring would sit cringing in the audience. At the end the whole audience would shout in unison "Your Dad is Sad".

Anyone who tries as hard as this government to be cool is obviously not going to be. If we wanted a weird, skewed, icon of cool to be Prime Minister we would have had Jarvis Cocker but instead we have got someone bland, mainstream, smugly normal. That doesn't matter. I don't want Blair to be cool. I just want him to be good at his job. Why should he and people like Robin Cook force themselves to utter this drivel. They get it wrong, just like pop stars talking about anything other than how difficult it is to get out the second album when half the band are out of their heads.

A prime example this week was Ian Brown, former Stone Rose. The boy looks good and the boy has done good, but do we really want to know his views on homosexuality? "Violence comes from Romans, Nazis, Greeks. They were all homosexual and I've got gay friends that will back me up". Back you up? If you're right, Ian, surely they will beat you up. Just as Ian Brown should do what he is good at, so the Government should stick to what it is good at - being the boring, establishment figures that they are. You can't have it all ways.

If we are worried that our international reputation is at stake, then get some of these old diplomats back to Britain for a week and give them a guided tour. Or replace them. Panel 2000, which sounds like something you would buy at B & Q, cannot forge a future for Britain, however good and noble its members - the reason being that no one including the Prime Minister seems to know what they are talking about exactly. Last week when Blair was asked again what was going in the Dome he said, "We are forging a new patriotism focused on the potential we can fulfil in the future." Oh, so that's cleared that up then.

For all its concern about image, this government should really get its own house in order. A truly cool government would not let Harriet Harman blather on about "hand-outs". It would realise that its stance on tuition fees, on drugs, on "scroungers" is fundamentally opposed to the interests of many of the constituencies it is trying to attract. No amount of image- making will change the fact that the policy and the image do not go together.

It is not surprising that the formerly supportive pop press renounced Blair a few weeks back. Those who lent their credibility to Blair are now back-tracking as fast as they can. Who now looks cool? Noel Gallagher for hob-nobbing with the PM or Damon Albam for refusing to be drawn in to the whole circus in the first place?

Of course it makes sense for business people to sell the image of modern Britain to the rest of the world; they had been doing it already. But a government, any government, cannot incorporate anti-establishment leanings into its own narrow agenda. Much of the creativity of our best artists and musicians springs from a spontaneous need to express their own view of the world, not someone else's. Just a glance at some of the subject matters that some of our young geniuses are dealing with - death, decay, class, racism, and drugs - would surely indicate that they are hardly going to conform to some New Shiny Clean Labour aspirations.

One may re-brand a product; but if that product has changed and diversified, it cannot be re-branded into a single, neat package. We are, as Blair says, a mixture of old and new. Our confusion is symbolised for me by Bernie, the new virtual presenter of the Lottery show. She is a little bit Cilla, little bit Anthea, a little bit Pamela Anderson, a little bit Cyberbabe. The point is that she is not real but a ridiculous attempt to unify an incredibly diverse number of demands.

Those who originally created the impetus that came to be defined as Cool Britannia never ever believed that Britannia rules the waves. They only ever got to be cool because they knew that Britannia waves the rules. Someone, somewhere must be cool enough to explain this to our rulers?