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Musical tales of the (un)expected

Tawfiq Chahboune


Do politicians or their henchmen pay any attention to detail, and musical detail in particular? The same may be asked of those making television programmes. Or are they all endowed with rather mischievous senses of humour? I ask because as Tony Blair marched to give his conference speech - delirious delegates prostrating themselves before the Great Helmsman - the song "If the Kids are United", by the punk band Sham 69, was roaring out. Since what Blair was about to say, the title of the band was apposite. Commentators made much of the song's title: if the kids in Blair's nursery would just behave themselves, and if Gordon would just stop throwing his rattle out of his pram, the world would be inherited by the "changemakers". Far more interesting is the following verse from the song:


I don't want to be rejected

I don't want to be denied

Then its not my misfortune

That I've opened up your eyes


Who else was rejected? Who else was denied? Who else opened up people's eyes? Indeed, one particular chap a couple of millennia back was denied three times by one of his own followers! And have there not been followers who have tried to deny Tony three times in 1997, 2001 and 2005? The misfortune is theirs: forgive them for they know not what they do. And did not Tony not tell us of the "scars" inflicted on his "back" from trying to face down a medieval system? Did not Jesus suffer similar scarring from another medieval system? And did not Tony give a beatitude: Blessed are the "changemakers". Moreover, the forces of darkness/conservatism would be defeated if we would listen to the Epistles of Anthony: war (jihadi terror), famine (Africa), pestilence (MRSA), death (the Judas Iscariots, Mo and Robin, would, having seen the error of their ways, would not have been visited by the Angel of Death). Evil would be defeated and a New Jerusalem would be at hand. This is either a message from above, or Blair's Messiah complex really has taken over. If Tony is the representative of the deity, then the Lord moves in shockingly mysterious ways. 


If one were to try to decipher anything from "Labour's" musical preferences, last year's surprising choice for their Conference Political Broadcast was the most informative. It was the theme from the film Badlands. For those who have no knowledge of the film, a concise summary would be: A superficially pleasant and good-natured man goes haywire and murders people with real gusto. Finally cornered, the affable fellow is asked why he had been so violent, and, somewhat to his own surprise, the wouldn't-hurt-a-fly-type-of-guy finds that he has no convincing answer. Any similarity with a certain resident of 10 Downing Street is purely coincidental. This is possibly another sign of Blair arrogance (with Blair chuckling to himself: "I'm mocking you, you fools! And you don't even know it!"). Or just an impish but bored "Labour" apparatchik inserting it for laughs. What are the chances such a song would have been chosen? I plump for Blair mockery. They do say that he has a wicked sense of humour in private. In public, however, he is merely wicked.


It was sad that the other political parties didn't make any clever musical puns at the 2005 general election concerning New "Labour's" use of the theme tune to a film documenting the sociopathic tendencies of a man who couldn't give a hoot about human life. Come to think of it, "Things can only get better" was another cruel joke at our expense. 


Americans, as is well known, do things so much bigger and better. And no one does it better than William Jefferson Clinton. Some time back, David Dimbleby interviewed the former president and rapist. The interview began with the well-known Lou Reed song Walk on the Wild Side. It is taken for granted that in an interview like that, Clinton would have decided much of the detail concerning the interview. Was Clinton being contemptuous? Or was someone on the BBC production team indulging in some mischief making when choosing the music? How so? Ponder these lines from the song:


In the backroom she was everybody's darling

But she never lost her head

Even when she was giving head.


Any similarity with Monica Lewinsky is, of course, purely coincidental. Again, what are the chances that song of all songs! with such resonant overtones being chosen? Clinton mockery? He has nothing better to do with his time now. Though for Bubba-style practical jokes he has a long way to match the one he played so skilfully in 1996 when he refused to start proceedings to extradite Osama bin Laden from a Sudanese government more than happy to hand the lunatic over. The religious fruitcake hopped it to Afghanistan a little bit later. We're still laughing that one off. As for Blair jokes, my personal favourite, and it'll take some beating, is "Iraq has active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes." All side-splitting stuff, and, fortunately for all, neither the Clinton nor Blair practical jokes have had any serious consequences, though the two jesters found the gags so funny that emergency heart surgery was soon required. Keep up the harmless fun, chaps.


Moreover, I was certainly fascinated by the music BBC Parliament chose to play this year during its coverage of the TUC conference and the conferences of the main political parties. The music was the tune that accompanied the dire series "Tales of the Unexpected". I was very young at the time, but even I found nothing remotely "unexpected" - it was all very bloody expected. Similarly with the nonsense emanating from SKY Channel 508: BBC Parliament. There was great humour to be gained, as usual, by watching the "comrades, brothers and sisters" rhetoric from assorted trade union leaders - and I paraphrase - as they called on the "comrades, brothers and sisters" to embrace the delights of "globalisation", to compete with the sweatshops of China and to put one's faith in the imminent and "real Labour" government of Gordon Brown, whose wise leadership will have an almost Jehovah Witness book illustration quality about it as he brings harmony to industrial relations - even the lion and the lamb shall sleep together in peace.


Needless to say, it was much more important, nay expected, for the TUC to feign interest in the Gate Gourmet workers (and good PR to win a motion on secondary action at the "Labour" conference), and then fund a Party - turkeys voting to institute Christmas every day of the year? - that not only refuses, on pain of death, to legalise secondary action, a worker's fundamental right, but wants to further diminish workers' rights. Who says "solidarity" is dead? Actually, am I the only person who can't tell the difference between the unreal world of the TUC and that of Peter Sellers's biting portrayal of a Bolshy union leader in "I'm Alright Jack"? A fanciful workers' paradise is never far from Fred Kite's thoughts: "All them cornfields and ballet in the evening," he coos about "socialist" Russia. The "Labour" establishment, full of plutocrat-friendly Fred Kites, mutter similarly deranged nonsense about "no more boom and bust" (Marx must be doing somersaults), something even the most hyper-capitalist economists believe to be something akin to a salesman peddling oil from a snake. Engels's witticism about the rampant bourgeoisification of every part of British life doesn't quite cover the TUC's embrace of a backward economic programme that even the Financial Times and Economist think is inflicting serious structural strains on an economy built on debt.


All this TUC gibberish reminded me of Norman Johnson, the new Guardian columnist, doing the introductory "who I am and what I stand for" gushing description of himself. This consisted of the customary "Islamo-fascism" number. Fifty-two columns a year will write themselves by deliberately confusing jihadi extremism with fascism. In this first column, though, he was honest enough to write that he had been hired as a second-rate David Aaronovitch (comrade Dave, a former Stalinist, has moved on to the Times, a mad outfit where his embrace of the cult of the personality will be warmly reciprocated by bundles of Murdoch's dirty money). Mr Johnson then gave what can only be described as a "Tale of the Unexpected" about how he is in the happy position to see all his communist ideals embodied in, er, New "Labour". I consulted my Communist Manifesto and, strangely, found no mention of support for privatisation and dictatorships, fighting imperial wars, aiding jihadis, and increasing the gap between rich and poor. I must have a faulty Manifesto. Surely it is only a matter of time before Johnson joins Aaronovitch and other "leftwing" visionaries at News International, apparently communism's new politburo. Although Johnson's piece was a "Tale of the Unexpected", it was also a blast from the past: "Marxism Today" is back and retelling the same unfunny jokes.


(Here's a funny thing. How many people would be surprised to learn that Norman Johnson does not actually exist - he is in fact the "satirical" creation of a Guardian columnist, who is making "fun" of something or other. Satire is, roughly speaking, making serious points through ridicule. Now, given that Norman Johnson is regularly outdone by Martin Kettle, let alone the departed David Aaronovitch, how is a reader meant to distinguish satire from "informed" comment. Or is Martin Kettle imaginary and Norman Johnson real? The Guardian is full of second-rate Aaronovitches and columnists who genuinely believe that their "socialist" aspirations have come to fruition in New "Labour". It's a real freak show. The Guardian show could be satirical if it so chose, though its readers would misread the comedic intentions of liberalism's standard bearer for seriousness: it could hire writers who don't need a New "Labour" press release in order to form an opinion. Unfortunately, for every independent-minded and intelligent Gary Younge, though he makes mistakes, there are twenty or thirty unthinking and predictable Andrew Anthonys. Journalists, especially liberal journalists, are as a general rule, though there are exceptions, a very deluded bunch in that they believe their own propaganda about how "cynical" they are, how they believe every politician is a liar, etc. When faced with incontrovertible proof that politicians are liars, even war criminals, how quickly the faux-"cynicism" fades and a defender of politicians appears.)


Back to the political conferences. The Lib Dems conference saw a lurch to the right, but with the always amusingly vacuous punch line "not left, not right, but what's right for Britain". Was this a Tale of the Unexpected? Hardly. I've yet to get over the Lib Dems amazing antiwar placards stating: "It is not yet time for war". Equidistance is back with a vengeance - and awesome spinelessness impossible to find anywhere but in a party that has a seven-winged worm as its emblem, as Paul Merton brilliantly pointed out. Let no one say the Lib Dems were antiwar. (Billy Bragg defended the Lib Dems have-your-cake-and-eat-it policy on Question Time. An astute member of the audience detailed the bribes and threats the US has employed in the past to obtain UN resolutions. She then turned to Bragg and asked him whether he would support the war if the United States was able to bribe and threaten enough UN Security Council members to achieve the necessary resolution to wage an unprovoked war. The "leftwing" activist and "musician" replied that, with a UN resolution secured, he would support war. Bragg further spluttered that international law, though it was at the barrel of a shotgun, was all that mattered to him, everything else was hot air. How the UN security council resolution was obtained did not concern the "leftwing" activist and useful idiot.) 


The "Labour" conference saw to phrase it?...a lurch to the right? Is an answer even necessary? Now, who would have "expected" that, eh? And who would have expected that the conference would rule "out of order" a motion on Iraq, or that not enough votes to force a discussion could be amassed by the hundreds of local constituency parties, and that the "domestic agenda" (read: privatisation) was the crucial matter of our times for "Labour's" delegates? Since conference decisions aren't binding on the Party, the sheer thought of embarrassing Tony Blair was all that hindered the "comrades, brothers and sisters" of the "Labour" movement from even mentioning the most dangerous issue in international affairs. Just like last year when a motion to debate Iraq was decapitated by the unions (composite motion "anything but Iraq"), here was another outbreak of "solidarity". 


Priorities are priorities, after all. It would be the height of irresponsibility to merely debate - forget about even passing a non-binding motion on Iraq - the possible disintegration of Iraq and a war that has a good chance of engulfing the Middle East when more important matters are begging for attention. There was, after all, an "emergency debate" to be had on gay rights. Is there a gay "emergency"? Has Richard Littlejohn come out? Has Liberace risen from the dead and started recording? Are ASBOs to be served for mincing?


By contrast, the Tories, to their eternal credit, would never allow something as squalid as party unity to stand in the way of important matters - look at the way they were willing to wage a scorched earth policy in an attempt to scupper further EU integration. This is known as principle and integrity, something "Labour's" automata and "leftwingers" will never countenance in an effort to appease "Labour's" unappeasable rightwing storm troopers. In their misguided effort to preserve party unity, imagining they have some leverage on the sociopaths, "Labour's" so-called leftwingers meekly mutter: "Yes, bass; I'll be mighty good from now on". I really do hope no one is silly enough to try and draw my attention to the so-called damage done to "Labour" by the extremely moderate, even slightly rightwing, "Militant" Tendency. It was, of course, the right's shock troops blackmailing (do as we say, or we'll wreck the Party) that ensured "Labour" were in opposition for eighteen years. And what of the Tories? What of this make or break conference and the leadership election? Well, whatever they do really will be a "Tale of the Unexpected".


September 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism