Spice racked

They have sold millions in Japan, where `Wannabe' probably means `I love squirrels'

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Pop stars don't win elections. Billy Bragg failed to secure the youth vote for Kinnock and David Bowie's contribution to the triumph of Mrs Thatcher has not been thought worthy of a published thesis by Professor Anthony King of Essex University. Nor will the interview with the Spice Girls - as featured in this week's Spectator - do very much to save John Major. As was admitted recently by a Labour PR man, celebrity endorsement is important only in the sense that "you look sad if you don't have any."

For those unfamiliar with the pop scene, the Spice Girls are the latest in a long line of tame early teen idols, inheritors of the mantle of the Bay City Rollers, Bros and Take That. Their unique selling proposition is that they are feisty, in-your-face females. They have, of course, sold millions in Japan, where "Wannabe" (their latest hit) probably means "I love squirrels".

They are also brilliantly marketed as collectables. Each one has a different name and gimmick (Sporty, Scary, Ginger, Posh and Baby Spice). It can only be a matter of time before the manufacturers of Barbie or Sindy release all five at pounds 13.99 a shot and parents find themselves purchasing the set. Hardly will they have done this than the Spice Girls will split up and be replaced by John Thaw and Kevin Whateley singing cover versions of Elvis Presley.

So bloody what? Given all the above, what does it matter that these young women should embrace the cause of low taxation, the House of Lords, the monarchy, Europhobia and free love (a combination that, eerily, suggests an image of Mrs T romping topless on a Californian beach)? And it is hardly surprising that the Spectator, in its current right-wing anarchistic incarnation, should so approve of young women whose approach to life is materialistic, uncluttered by youthful principle and hedonistic. That is no reason for the rest of us to lose sleep.

Nor is their ignorance in any way unique. When Geri (Ginger Spice) argues against European integration on the basis that "Britain was the first to break away from the Roman Empire"(Yippee, here come the Dark Ages!), at least she knows that the islands were once under the sway of Rome. I wouldn't swear that Kiki Dee knows as much. When Geri goes on to assert that "we travel through Europe and all those countries look the same. Only England looks different," we can afford to smile, knowing that a quick visit to Siena followed by a trip to Heligoland ought to sort that one out. The simultaneous belief in the hereditary principle ("earls and dukes are good for tourism") and pure meritocracy suggests an unformed quality in the Girls' thinking.

And yet I hate this interview and I hate them for giving it and I hate their interviewer - Simon Sebag Montefiore - for enjoying it so much. The one line which sums it up for me is this: "Labour does things for everyone, which might create laziness." This is the pure doctrine of welfare dependency, which I am prepared to accept from those who believe in decent state-funded education, a minimum wage and assistance to return to work (ie those who have an alternative to dependency other than immiseration), but not from those whose sole criticism of Blair is that they do not like his tax policies.

Well, drawls my pal from the letters section, what's the big deal? They have absorbed the orthodox drivel of the pure market much as you and I (a large hand drops sympathetically on my shoulder) absorbed all that Fabian drivel about redistribution and demand-led economies. Chill out.

Ah yes, I think, but our drivel was better than their drivel. Our drivel was about the need to improve life for people, about moral responsibility, about no man being an island. It was only as we got older that we discovered that it was difficult to do. But their drivel means that they don't want to do it at all, even if it was easy! They don't start idealistic and become realistic; they start cynical and will become monstrous.

Up pops another friend. The polls tell us (should we care to listen) that among no section of the population is Labour's lead as great as among 18-24-year-old women. The Spice Girls are out of tune. Maybe. But there's something in this Tamara Beckwith, have-it-all, tolerant but apathetic, supremely individualistic culture which suggests that (as Cyndi Lauper didn't sing) girls just wanna be shits.

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