Jarvis Cocker and New Labour


2:56 pm - May 2nd 2009

by Neil Robertson    


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In the world of popular music, being called a Tory remains as hurtful as having your band compared to Ocean Colour Scene. Just leaving aside the number of songs strummed against Thatcher or pop’s role in movements against war and racism, the word ‘conservative’ isn’t just laden with assumptions about your politics, but about the music you make. For decades now, the word’s been used to infer that the art you produce is corporate, pro-establishment, staid, formulaic and conformist. In short, if you’re a Tory, you definitely don’t rock.

So when Jarvis Cocker gave an interview to GQ magazine where he seemed to say that a Conservative government wasn’t just inevitable but ‘necessary’, it wouldn’t be long before it was followed by a carefully-worded clarification. “In no way am I supporting or suggesting that a Conservative government is a good thing, far from it,” Cocker states. “Rather, what I intended to get across was that, in the absence of any real alternative, a Conservative government at this point unfortunately seems inevitable.” I think it’s safe to assume that he isn’t turning into Bryan Ferry.

This is comforting because, as Sunder notes, Cocker’s work with Pulp did much to keep class in the public consciousness at a time when it was being written-out of the rhetoric of New Labour and barely noticed by a Britpop crowd which was getting high off the hype of ‘Cool Britannia’. But what made the band’s records as interesting as they were cherished was that there was much more complexity to their themes than you’d find in the simplistic tubthumping of most political music.

There’s no denying that the social commentary in Pulp’s songs had its share of revolutionary sentiment. On Different Class’ ‘Mis-Shapes’, he conjures the image of a disadvantaged people rising up to claim what they feel is theirs (”Just put your hands up, it’s a raid! We want your homes. We want your lives. We want the things you won’t allow us”). Likewise, in ‘I Spy’ he voices a wronged working class man who seethes with contempt for his bourgeoisie ‘betters’ and plots his revenge (I can’t help it: / I was dragged up / My favourite parks are car parks / Grass is something you smoke / Birds are something you shag / Take your Year In Provence / and shove it / up your arse).

But there’s also the strong sense in Cocker’s lyrics that his isn’t a politics which relies on a state bestowing better lives on its people, but where the people sieze the means to achieve change for themselves. This comes across most strongly in This is Hardcore’s “The Day After The Revolution”, where he tramples on the old lie that “the meek shall inherit the Earth” by spitting “The meek shall inherit absolutely nothing at all / if you stopped being so feeble you could have so much more” and telling his listeners that “the revolution begins & ends with you”. His belief in the untapped potential of the working class is also striking in the preceding “Glory Days”, where he laments “Oh, we were brought up on the space race / now they expect you to clean toilets / when you’ve seen how big the world is / how can you make do with this?”. If he sometimes comes across as scornful of indolence & sloth (such as on this song and Different Class’ “Monday Morning”) it’s more out of frustration at this potential going to waste.

But if I could pick one song which I think best encapsulates Cocker’s worldview and his weary, remorseful outlook on British politics, it would be found on one of Pulp’s lesser known efforts. The last song the band ever released was a footnote to their Greatest Hits collection called “The Last Day of the Miner’s Strike“.

Based on a reminiscence of industrial unrest in the 1980’s, it’s a song which could be read as either an anthem or a lament; a dream of what might’ve been possible “if we just stick together” or the reality of what was lost in the decades since their failure. “The last day of the miner’s strike was the Magna Carta in this part of town”, he sings, hinting that futures are now fixed, that possibilities are narrowed and alternatives reduced. Labour or Tory. Tory or Labour. Switching from one colour to the next without ever really expanding the palette.

No, Jarvis won’t be wearing a blue rosette any time soon, but Labour should still take the time to ponder why he, and many progressives like him, doesn’t feel at home in either party

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About the author
Neil Robertson is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He was born in Barnsley in 1984, and through a mixture of good luck and circumstance he ended up passing through Cambridge, Sheffield and Coventry before finally landing in London, where he works in education. His writing often focuses on social policy or international relations, because that's what all the Cool Kids write about. He mostly blogs at: The Bleeding Heart Show.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Equality ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


1. the a&e charge nurse

Ferry is not really a Tory – he is just obsessed with posh people: sure, his son is a fox killer but this has more to do with cultural lifestyle rather than any coherent political ideology.

By the way didn’t Cocker cosy up to Blair along with the likes of Gallagher sisters and one or two other so called Brit-pop icons?

Remember Blair fronted a band aptly named ‘the ugly rumours’ and word has it that he could muster a passable imitation of Mick Jagger, another superannuated rocker with Tory sympathies.

This BBC4 doc contains a bit about the politics of britpop and music in the 1990s in general:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b008s9r8/Pop_on_Trial_1990s/

By the way didn’t Cocker cosy up to Blair along with the likes of Gallagher sisters and one or two other so called Brit-pop icons?

Don’t think so.

As far as I know he refused the invite to Number Ten in Blair’s early days…

I think this stands for itself (and his views), unfortunately there never was a video. So, to the tune of Glory Days, here’s Cocaine Socialist. Enjoy!

4. the a&e charge nurse

I know it was a life time ago, Daniel, but I do seem to recall the Yorkshireman was a Tony luvee – this from the BBC:
Among the first through the door of 10 Downing Street to congratulate Tony Blair were stars such as Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher, singer Jarvis Cocker, actor Ross Kemp, Mick Hucknall and Ben Elton.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/vote2001/hi/english/newsid_1319000/1319508.stm

It’s possible that Cocker was too high on coke and champagne to remember much about it, and no doubt feels faintly embarrased nowadays – I don’t think he spent much time rubbing shoulders with Arthur Scargill, though.

Good to see a post on Jarvis, truly an inspiration. He has a point, what would another New Labour Government be for?

More inner city Academies and faith schools? A new FSA doing what exactly? A privatised Post Office? ID cards that no one wants? Tax credits being increased more slowly than tax is?

They are a Zeitgeist behind the times, economically, socially, technologically and they need renewal. Jarvis realises this, I expect he’s been disappointed for some time.

a carefully-worded clarification.

I can’t help but be amused at they way artistic rebels are all desperate to demonstrate that they conform with each others opinions.

He was one of my picks for a “Do they vote Lib Dem?” post on LDV at christmas.

Basically on the strength of the sleevenote from Different Class:

“Please understand. We don’t want no trouble. We just want the right to be different. That’s all.”

We are all so 1990s 😀

@4

Hmm… I’m pretty sure that beeb article is wrong. It certainly doesn’t fit with this:

Cocker on Cocaine Socialism @ NME

Conservative government wasn’t just inevitable but ‘necessary’

And he is right – although most, as the Tory government will be elected by a minority, will vote for another, but that is by the by.

With a Tory government elected then people will see what they fear – and that, for the most part is a good thing.

Then the electorate may be focussed on what they really do want and vote accordingly at the next election. We can only hope, of course.

10. david brough

Listen to a fucking proper band like New Model Army or Levellers

11. Shatterface

Listening to Different Class right now as I type this on my phone: ain’t technology wonderful?

Agree that Labour need to be relegated to the oposition for a term or two, though not sure I want the Tories in charge.

New Labour need a good reaming at the election so that they come back grovelling for forgiveness before the next one. Blair/Brown shat on everything Labour should stand for.

They should not be accepted back in power until they renounce what they have done.

New Labour need a good reaming at the election so that they come back grovelling for forgiveness before the next one. Blair/Brown shat on everything Labour should stand for.

They should not be accepted back in power until they renounce what they have done.

10000000% agreed!

13. david brough

New “Labour” should be opposed- but not by fucking Tory filth.

I won’t be voting at all. The only appropriate response is to tell them all to fuck off.

“Ferry is not really a Tory – he is just obsessed with posh people:”

Same thing, surely.

“I know it was a life time ago, Daniel, but I do seem to recall the Yorkshireman was a Tony luvee – this from the BBC:”

I think he may also have been the first to bail out. iirc he was quoted slagging off Nu Lab in the NME’s Ever Get The Feeling You’ve Been Cheated issue.

Hey David

You don’t know it but you’re a libertarian!!!!!!

16. david brough

You forget that I cut my teeth during the miners’ strike when I was part of an independent association fighting against Thatcher’s henchmen- paid agents of the state trying to deny us our livelihoods while their followers in London talked bollocks about “freedom”, aka their freedom to exploit us.

Yes- I hate those fucking Tories who call themselves libertarians. But if you mean someone who mistrusts state power over workers, then I am that way.

According to the usual sacks of fucking shite, economic “freedom” is all they care about. But I am with these civil liberties marchers now- that is why I am on this site.

Why the fuck is it that people like Tony Benn have persisted in supporting socialism but are against stacking up police power and fucking shite like ID cards- because it is a consistent pro-working-class position to support policies which promote our welfare and oppose fucking shite that oppresses us.

Aye- I’ll believe you’re the real thing when you advocate repealing anti-union laws.

I think we can settle this straight away, with a video for a track from his recent solo album:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=monyiOsoKxg

I think we can settle this straight away, with a video for a track from his recent solo album:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=monyiOsoKxg

Cunts are still running the world…

So nobody’s had a go at me for dissing Ocean Colour Scene yet. Looks like I might’ve dodged a bullet.

@ The Judge, Fellow Traveller

Cunts are still running the world…

I wondered how long it’d be before someone posted that.

@ Alix,

He was one of my picks for a “Do they vote Lib Dem?” post on LDV at christmas.

I did wonder at the lack of Lib Dem love, particularly considering their strength in Sheffield (for the leader of a national party, Nick Clegg is fantastic on local issues). But then I remembered that sightings of Jarvis Cocker around Sheffield are as rare as spotting someone canvassing for the Tories.

David

Aye- I’ll believe you’re the real thing when you advocate repealing anti-union laws.

I agree Tony is a great guy- left and libertarian.

The problem is that most unions were and are run by a bunch of totalitarian arseholes. You had to be one to get to General Secretary.

They almost all lack Tony’s imagination and vigour.

So nobody’s had a go at me for dissing Ocean Colour Scene yet.

Well as controversial statements go, Ocean Colour Scene being shit ranks just below Gordon Brown not being a very good PM and Mel Phillips occasionally being prone to hyperbole.

Jarvis’s mum was a Tory Party activist back in the 1990s. I remember Melody Maker gleefully reporting it.

“Listen to a fucking proper band like New Model Army or Levellers”

Yes!

Re: Cocker. He writes some witty lyrics about social class, but he doesn’t seem especially articulate about politics or particularly passionate about it. Has he ever got involved in any campaigns, performed any benefit gigs, etc?

Some musicians aspire to be political without having the dedication to become politically explicit and involved. The usual result is a tendency for cynical references to how depressing they find politics. I suspect this is what Jarvis Cocker’s about.

Not necessarily a criticism! I don’t think all musicians have to be paid-up members of a political party or have detailed suggestions of how the House of Lords should be reformed to have opinions about politics. But it maybe means we shouldn’t take their political views too seriously.

Pulp were AMAZING. One of my fav bands of all times and Jarvis is a lyrical genius.

About New Labour. Isn’t it telling about the electoral system that Britain is becoming a country where governments change colour every 15 years on average? Surely, no matter where you stand politically, you may agree that can’t be good for democracy,

NL deserve to be mashed at the elections. The risk is however, that the Blairite/Milburnite faction may take over again- inflicting more of the same.

25. Chavscum

The music scene is almost entirely middle-class. Rebellious middle-class youth always flirt with the Left. Most grow up eventually and vote Tory. Contrast that with working-class footballers who bar a few cunting Mancs, vote Tory, as its the party of the aspirational lower classes.

26. Planeshift

“The music scene is almost entirely middle-class.”

Only if you’re so fucking ignorant that your music taste is entirely composed of whatever is on the radio.

Funny you should mention OCS.

Mr Brown

Mr Brown, you promised us the earth
So you can’t let us down
So for what it’s worth
Mr Brown
It’s just the last one there
Said he didn’t think it very fair
It’s up to you to turn it round
So come on Mr Brown, Mr Brown
Mr Brown, come on, come on Mr Brown etc…
And when the whole world’s screaming, scheming, cheating
Mr Brown won’t care
He won’t be lying, stealing, dealing, deceiving
Mr Brown’s most fair
But now he’s not there
Because it’s you who wears the crown
But one day and it won’t be fair
They will come and cut you down, Mr Brown
And we all know it’s true
There’s no-one who could follow you
There’s no-one who can touch you

Cunts are still running the world…

Do you have to use a derogatory word for the genitals of an underclass in order to be abusive? Says a lot.

Ocean Colour Scene did make one or two decent records (in 1996). That’s more than could be said for many a band.

100 Mile High City? You know you love it.

I always preferred the slightly winsome guitars of The Bluetones.

“Listen to a fucking proper band”

Learn to play an instrument
to express yourself.
Nah nah na-nah na.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: Jarvis Cocker and New Labour http://tinyurl.com/d3vp4b

  2. Sunder Katwala

    @rosieniven this was @Neil_Robertson Jarvis post http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/05/02/jarvis-cocker-and-new-labour/

  3. Jay Baker

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/05/02/jarvis-cocker-and-new-labour/





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