In 1979 I had my first chance to vote in a general election. Naturally the people I looked to for advice (this being the days before social media) were the rock musicians of the time.
Punk had just about boiled over, we had a general consensusthat there was no future and things were generally bad. Most of the wrath of the new bands was directed at authorityfigures in general and record companies in particular. To be fair there was a rate of unemployment unprecedented since the second world war and Britain was generally dirty and run down, the police were generally pretty nasty and the anger that was gently bubbling amongst the youth tended to find an outlet in minor rioting and the occasional organised protest march.
Pre-punk most of our rock idols hadn’t really got a political clue. The big exception was John Lennon who was trying on a variety of political hats in his quest to become an artist but really rock stars were the ultimate in the self-made business person. Almost all of them were genuinely working class and they’d worked hard to get where they were, really all they wanted was to make music, take drugs, have sex with whoever they wanted and generally be left alone. By the mid 70’s the likes of Jagger, Stewart and Elton John were pretty much on a par with royalty. They were also making more money than they had ever thought possible and unsurprisingly they didn’t want the Labour government to take nearly all of it away through taxation.
The inevitable exodus from the country of their birth was seen as a betrayal by some and when the likes of Bowie and Clapton started flirting with the extreme right wing the poorer musicians staying at home began some sort of involvement in more left-wing politics notably Rock against Racism and various anti-fascist movements. This was my background to 1979.
To be honest, this was manna from heaven for struggling musicians, ‘benefit’ gigs were a major source of unpaid exposure, people went to benefits, if you played there you could get a crown and a bit of a reputation.
Although most grassroots and even established musician s would not declare their love of the conservative party neither were they usually labour supporters. At the time of the 1979 election the Labour leader was Jim Callaghan. Gentleman Jim seemed impossibly old, in fact he was in his 50’s but he was a different generation, the labour party made next to no attempt to connect with the post Woodstock generation, if you were young and working class you probably voted for them anyway. Labour didn’t really seem to offer a lot for me, the only real alternative were the Conservatives under their new leader Margaret Thatcher. To my amazement many of my friends and acquaintances at polytechnic were active Conservative supporters. I hadn’t really encountered this before, my friends in Norwich had been fairly bohemian types and although all mainsteam politics was regarded as terminally unhip the Conservatives did not really even register on our political radar.
The lucky party to get my vote in 1979 was the Worker’s Revolutionary Party. It seems incredible now that not only would such a party exist but that it would actually put up candidates but there were an awful lot of fringe left wing parties around the most active being the Socialist Workers. Naturally they all hated each other.
The Workers Revolutionary didn’t win of course, the Tories did. I maintained a soft spot for the WRP for a while, one of them used to come round my house and sell me a paper once a week. After a few months I pointed out that most of the predictions they were making weren’t actually happening and he decided I wasn’t a believer and stopped coming.
All through the 80s I voted for someone who never got to power which means I voted for someone who wasn’t a Conservative, election after election it was the same. Labour had decided to woo the youth with their Red Wedge project, there was Billy Bragg (inevitably) and Paul Weller and the Communards (probably). My admiration for Billy continues to this day but I would rather go and see him without having to listen to a speech, so I never caught the red Wedge Tour when it rolled into Nottingham.
And it made no difference whatsoever to the Labour vote.
I cannot really remember the labour victory when it finally happened, for some reason the 90’s remains a blur. I cant even remember if I voted Labour or not, I had voted for so long with no positive outcome that I might even have had a punt on the Lib Dems or Green Party, I probably did vote Labour but the fact I cant remember it suggests it wasn’t the high spot of my decade.
With Tony Blair however, we at last had a leader from the Rock generation. Blair had been in a band at university and ‘Cool Britannia’ attracted a whole load of creative types- and Oasis. Like Red Wedge this didn’t really end well, musicians and politicians are very different types of people and really the musicians just wanted to make music, take drugs and have sex while politicians are happy to attend a reading of a draft manifesto. Essentially politicians are not cool in any respect although, ironically Boris Johnson actually has a more musician mentality than any other PM this century. (believe it or not, many years ago Billy Bragg took him to the Glastonbury Festival which was filmed for the BBC)
And talking of festivals, it was amazing to see Jeremy Corbyn being lauded at Glastonbury a couple of years ago. Young people now being more intelligent than I ever was were able to accept a man in his 70’s who clearly has virtually no rock credibility because they though he had some good ideas!
For a very brief moment a Politician was like a rock star without having to make any concessions to that audience.
Last Thursday I went to vote as I have done in every general election since 1979.
Guess what happened!