By Pieter Cranenbroek – International Politics Blogger
Music has always been a stage used to criticise the political order, but in the past week Morrissey and Billy Bragg both decided to air their grievances on politics and society off stage.
Both singers stressed the problem with the lack of accountability in modern society, though they portrayed different views on how such a thing might be rectified. It is refreshing to have entertainers speak out about politics, partly because they can speak their minds without carefully watching their words for fear of deviating from the party line, but most of all because they seem to make more sense than most politicians.
Without the support of their bands, Morrissey and Billy Bragg commented on recent events last week; the former through a statement entitled ‘The world won’t listen’, the latter via a lengthy interview with Euractiv. It is a welcome change of pace, especially if you consider how horrific it is to hear politicians speak about music.
Ed Milliband opening up about his favourite songs confirmed that there are still people without any affinity for music whereas David Cameron’s pathetic attempts to identify with the younger generation are toe curling. Cameron’s revelations caused him to be banned from former Housemartins frontman Paul Heaton’s pub while Thom Yorke threatened to “sue the living shit out of him” if he ever were to use one of his songs.
It doesn’t help Cameron’s credibility to say he likes The Smiths one day and claim the next day that children from poorer backgrounds lack ambition. It would mean he is either incapable of understanding the lyrics and the sentiment of Morrissey and Marr’s songs or he is a liar. Take your pick.
The Queen is dead, boys
Musicians speaking about politics make for a good read. Morrissey’s concerns primarily centre around animal rights and the inviolability of the royals. It is certainly peculiar that in this day and age there is still a place for the Royal Family. The monarchy has outlived its purpose if it ever had one; one of the last traditions that supports the idea that people are not born equal.
Nevertheless, criticising the royals appears to be impossible without being branded an ‘anti-royal extremist’. Even in our democratic society, it does not seem possible to hold the royals accountable to anything. There are no platforms to demand their retirement, no possibility to “effect change without being tear-gassed.”
Animal rights are also still lagging behind. Sentences for crimes against animals are a mockery compared to the ones against humans. The fact that Melissa Bachman is able to shoot wild animals and share pictures of her triumphantly standing over the carcass is just as repulsive as if she were standing over the remains of a human being and yet she cannot be held accountable for her crimes.
Lack of accountability is also often heard in debates about the EU. Generally supporting European integration, calling it a “rational response to globalisation”, Bragg would like to see a bigger role for the European Parliament and shift power from governments to the people: “The levers of power are really in the hands of the Council of Ministers and I think the people need to be in control, rather than the governments of nations.”
Bragg goes on to say that the British first need to address their own democratic deficit, arguing that the majority of people in England do not get proportionate votes in the current voting system, “and that is ridiculous in a modern society, isn’t it?”
Additionally, Bragg touches upon the impact of immigration saying it broadly benefits society though at the same time pressing for the government’s need to better accommodate it. Although he believes that the concerns that people have around these issues are genuine, he states that “they cannot be answered by voting in a load of fascists.”
Activism vs nonparticipation
Interestingly enough, Morrissey and Bragg disagree on how to bring about change. The former The Smiths frontman sides with Russell Brand arguing that the clearest message we can send is an empty ballot paper: “for the days of Prime Ministers have gone, and it’s time for a form of change that is far more meaningful than simply switching blue to red.”
Bragg, on the other hand, does not believe change will come from political nonparticipation. Instead he hopes to mobilise people to participate in elections: “If you come to the ballot box with me when it’s time, I’ll come to the streets with you when it’s time.” We can still wait for a revolution while we stand in line at the polling station. It is our own cynicism we have to be wary of and “the only real antidote to cynicism is activism.”
So, using Bragg’s words, “how do we hold the bastards to account?” The solution does not lie, as both Brand and Morrissey suggest, in refraining from voting. The ‘No Vote’ is not the most powerful vote you can give. As long as there is no other game to play, standing on the sidelines will not change anything for the better.
Quoting one of Bragg’s songs, “You can be active with the activists or sleep in with the sleepers while you’re waiting for the great leap forwards.” A different kind of political structure in which accountability will be clearer and power lies with the people may be welcome, but until then let’s make the best of the present situation. After all, if it is only the left that cannot be bothered to vote, then it will not be difficult to predict the colour of the Prime Minister’s tie.
In any case, let’s hope Morrissey’s and Bragg’s words inspire people to the same extent as their songs have.