John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for November, 2010

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Spending cuts – the fightback begins

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Can this week’s violent protests in Westminster simply be dismissed as the hijacking of an orderly demonstration by a ’small minory’ of anarchists. Or are they a sign of things to come for an ‘out-of-touch’ government with 18 millionaires in its cabinet?

On and on it went: aerial shots of the heaving crowd, rolling commentary, bursts of stuff shot on mobile phones, and the usual parade of talking heads. While what the BBC was calling a “mini-riot” happened both inside and outside the Millbank tower, the people in charge of its news channel were presumably ecstatic: this kind of stuff, after all, is what rolling news was invented for.

Over there: a fire! Suddenly, on the roof: more protesters! On the phones: frantic office workers, taken aback by the disruption of their day! And in the midst of it all: that delicate and ever-shifting line of police, anxiously trying to do whatever they could, knowing full well that the people they were up against had already – if you’ll excuse the pun – stolen a march on them.

Meanwhile, the president of the National Union of Students did the media rounds. Aaron Porter is 25; he stood for the office as an independent, but is a member of the Labour party, whose dress code – the Nick Robinson-esque glasses are a good example – rather suggests that he’s destined for a career in mainstream politics. Certainly, if you fancy being a high-ranking Labour MP, clambering to the top of the NUS isn’t a bad move at all. His predecessors have included Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, the current shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy, and Phil Woolas, the MP last week suspended from office for making misleading claims in the course of the last election campaign – all of which highlights the fact that NUS presidents are not exactly renowned for being what the French call enragés.

And so it proved. “Let me be clear,” he told yet another camera. “I absolutely condemn the actions of a small minority who have used violent means to hijack the protest . . . if some people think it’s appropriate to use violence, it’s a total disgrace, and they have completely hijacked this opportunity to make a serious point.” In his own way, he was endorsing the view that was subsequently splashed over the front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail: “Anarchists spark violence as 50,000 take to streets over student fees – HIJACKING OF A VERY MIDDLE CLASS PROTEST”.

On the BBC, there was a particularly priceless moment. When Porter once again talked about “hijacking”, the coverage cut to the mass of people outside Tory HQ, the presenter made the point that this was not what “a small minority” would look like – and Porter seemed momentarily lost for words. You had only to look at the crowd to know that the vast majority of them were not anarchists, but reasonably regular twentysomethings. As if to illustrate the point, when one of the people on the roof made the stupid decision to hurl down a fire extinguisher”>stupid decision to hurl down a fire extinguisher, they were met with an outraged chant of “Don’t throw shit! Don’t throw shit!”

Long after the fires had burned out, and the riot police had belatedly arrived, I spoke to a Guardian colleague who had spent most of Wednesday at the scene. Talk of cynical provocateurs, he said, was “nonsense”: the crowd was made up of “ordinary students who were viscerally angry”, but also mindful of what was ill-advised, or plain daft. When one of their number had prised up a cobblestone and moved to lob it at the police, he had been roundly told to “stop being an idiot”; moreover, the attempted occupation of Millbank had seemingly started on a whim, when a handful of people had walked into the foyer, not quite believing they had been allowed to do so, and decided to stay put. He was also unimpressed by talk of an assembly of self-indulgent, bourgeois moaners: time and again, he said, he had bumped into people from such northern towns as Bradford and Wakefield, who were students at FE colleges, angered to the point of fury by the government’s axing of the educational maintenance allowance – the means-tested benefit that has enabled so many people to take up post-16 education without being a drain on the family budget.

His basic point – and mine – is simple enough. What happened on Wednesday afternoon was not some meaningless rent-a-mob flare-up, nor an easily-ignored howl of indignation from some of society’s more privileged citizens. It was an early sign of people growing anxious and restless, and what a government pledged to such drastic plans should increasingly expect.

If you hadn’t noticed already, these are strange, tumultuous times. We are still in the midst of the uneasy period of phoney war before the cuts actually bite, but we now know what’s coming: the deepest and quickest reductions in public spending since the 1920s – which, according to an under-reported quote from David Cameron, will not be reversed, even when our economic circumstances improve (2 August, at an event in Birmingham: “Should we cut things now and go back later and try and restore them later? I think we should be trying to avoid that approach”).

The welfare state is in for an unprecedented reinvention, as ministers get dangerously close to reviving the nasty old trope of the undeserving poor; yesterday, as if to try to neutralise recent fretful noises from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Iain Duncan Smith talked about supposedly self-imposed worklessness as a “sin”. Changes to housing benefit look likely to drastically change the social makeup of our cities, and London in particular; even Boris Johnson has talked about the danger of “social cleansing”.

Meanwhile, just about every area of our lives will soon feel the pinch: travel anywhere in the country, pick up the local paper, and it’s all there – the imminent hacking back of youth centres, social care, school buildings, libraries, parks . . . you name it. Everyone will be affected: as ever, the most vulnerable will take the biggest hit, though it is no accident that the idea of the “squeezed middle” is being talked about as never before.

Of late, my mind has returned time and again to a celebrated article from 1999 by the Oxford academic Ross McKibbin, and one passage in particular: “The middle classes make more use of the NHS, public transport, public libraries, local swimming pools, public parks and their right to state welfare than anyone else.”

Underneath the coalition’s plans, there is an obvious enough agenda: not just the brutal cutting of public spending, but a decisive rolling-out of the market-obsessed, “choice”-fixated ideas that took root while Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, were revived and retooled once Tony Blair decided he had to define himself against the Labour party – and now look set to be taken to their logical conclusion by the Tories, and the like-minded Lib Dems who took their party into the coalition. Here lies another reason why Wednesday’s events were so significant – for within the government’s plans for higher education lie not just the hiking-up of fees, but an entire reinvention of the very ethos of our universities, whereby the idea of education as a public good takes yet another kicking, and everything comes down to “choice”, and whatever is meant to be good for business.

A recent issue of the London Review of Books featured an inspired demolition of the Browne review, the report into higher education by the former chief executive of BP that was hailed by the government as setting its “strategic direction”, and thereby opened the way for the lifting of the cap on fees, and much more besides. The LRB piece was written by a Cambridge don named Stefan Collini, and it quickly got to the heart of the problem: “Overwhelmingly, the general statements announce, with startling confidence, the real point of higher education: ‘Higher education matters because it drives innovation and economic transformation. Higher education helps to produce economic growth, which in turn contributes to national prosperity.’ . . . This report displays no real interest in universities as places of education; they are conceived of simply as engines of economic prosperity and as agencies for equipping future employees to earn higher salaries.”

Meanwhile, where are the public? When it comes to tuition fees, do not believe the voices who tell us that the average Briton thinks students are a pampered lot who should get with the government’s plans and count themselves lucky. A recent YouGov survey commissioned by the Sun found that the public opposed the Browne proposals by 45% to 37%; an ICM poll from around the same time offered the choice between raised fees and the far fairer option of a graduate tax, and found that people favoured the latter over the former by 61% to 29%.

More generally, presumably to the delight of the government, a cliche has long since oozed into the reporting of what they are up to: that people accept the need for drastic austerity, and are meekly preparing for the necessary dose of fiscal medicine. Browse the requisite opinion polls, and you could be forgiven for assuming the worst: late last month, for example, Ipsos Mori found that 59% of people agreed that there was “a need to cut public spending on public services” – the kind of statistic cited almost daily by those newspapers who habitually encourage the government to go further, and faster.

In fact, things aren’t as simple as that. According to the same poll, the share of people who think the government has made either the right or wrong calls on public spending is evenly split: 41% and 38% respectively, while one in five simply don’t know; 40% of people disagree with the idea that the coalition’s approach will improve the state of the economy; while 49% reject the idea that, as the coalition insists, public services will somehow improve in the long run; 47% oppose cutting back the number of people who work in the public sector. Public opinion, it seems, is as contorted and contradictory as ever – and for the government, there is much less comfort than you might imagine.

While the coalition comes over all Churchillian, endlessly talking about the “national interest” and the spurious idea that we are “all in this together”, there is also a low hubbub of noise about their shortage of a mandate. On Wednesday, the ire of the marchers was focused on all those Lib Dems who blithely signed the NUS’s anti-fees pledge (”I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative” – yesterday, Nick Clegg limply said that he “should have been more careful” than to put his name to it). But there are also serious questions about the Tories – not just that they are pushing what Cameron recently called a “revolution” with the support of around one in five of the electorate, but also when it comes to the pronouncements they made during the election campaign.

Consider, for example, a now-infamous quote from the PM, issued on the Andrew Marr show on 2 May: “What I can tell you is any cabinet minister, if I win the election, who comes to me and says: ‘Here are my plans’ and they involve frontline reductions – they’ll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again.” And really: they wonder why some people are increasingly angry.

And so to the wider context, and things that most of the media very rarely mentions. Political debate in Britain is endlessly distorted by the way that London so dominates the national conversation, and assumptions that run wide and deep in some of Britain’s more desirable postcodes are assumed to blur into the national mood. In Islington, Notting Hill, and the more upmarket corners of the home counties, austerity will doubtless be taken in a lot of people’s stride: if you have opted out of large swaths of the public sector and earn a six-figure salary, the prospect of the cuts will inevitably cause you relatively little worry. Self-evidently, this will not be the case in Bolton, Merthyr Tydfil, or Hastings; but neither will it hold true in Basildon, Crawley, or Harrogate.

At the top of government, what might be called the “experience gap” grows even wider. There are at least 18 millionaires in the cabinet: Cameron is said to be worth around £3.4m; Nick Clegg’s wealth is put at a mere £1.8m. Of late, even commentators on the right have been talking about the distance between some ministers and the people at the sharp end of their policies, not least when it comes to the middle class. Last month, for example, the Daily Telegraph’s Peter Oborne bemoaned their “devastating” fate, in a piece worth quoting at reasonable length, if only to prove that the idea of an out-of-touch elite blithely wreaking havoc is not the preserve of hard-bitten lefties.

Among Oborne’s most telling passages was this one: “Doubtless both David Cameron and George Osborne think of themselves, quite genuinely, as middle class. Indeed, a few weeks ago, David Cameron referred to himself as a member of the “sharp-elbowed middle class”, and the political intention of this remark was clear: he was claiming associate membership of the club of hard-working people who pay their taxes, do their best to rear their children and find it desperately hard to make ends meet. Few would challenge the Camerons’ fundamental decency. But the middle-class people David and Samantha Cameron know socially tend to be on quarter of a million a year and upwards. Life for them may indeed be tough, but only in the sense of whether they can afford a skiing holiday or a spring break in the Caribbean.”

In last week’s news that Cameron had put his personal photographer on the public payroll, there was a slight touch of the Marie Antoinettes, and a tension that may yet cause the government no end of trouble. It boils down to this: if you are secure in such an exclusive social bracket, it will inevitably distort your view of things. Around £27,000 for a university degree may well seem like the acme of both affordability and common sense; lost child benefit may seem like money dropped down the back of the couch; people on welfare will inevitably look like the residents of a completely different planet.

Meanwhile, some longstanding assumptions seem to be changing at speed. Wednesday gave the lie to the idea that our young people are thoroughly post-ideological creatures, with no fight in them; if even the most fusty newspapers are worried about the chasm that separates the government from the so-called squeezed middle, you can bet that the politics of class may yet make an unexpected comeback.

Oh, and one other thing. Though few people seemed to notice, on 3 November, a Treasury minister named Lord Sassoon served notice that the coalition’s work on City bonuses was done: “The government has taken action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the banking sector,” he said, and that seemed to be that. Six days later, Barclays announced that its latest bonus pot would total £1.6bn – which is about a third of what the government currently spends each year on university teaching. The annual season of big executive payouts is about to commence once again; at this rate, do not be surprised if the seditious spirit of Millbank spreads – and fast.

George Osborne
John Harris

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Liar Liar, protest music on fire? | John Harris

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

After I lamented the lack of pop-cultural voices angered by coalition policies, people were quick to come forward

Several hundred years ago, when John Major was prime minister and I spent most of my waking hours working for the NME, a good deal of everyone’s time was spent wearily rummaging through demo tapes (and back then, they really were tapes) from aspirant musicians. Today, I’ve been doing much the same, investigating the small mountain of music I was either emailed or alerted to in the wake of my last Guardian piece – titled “Someone out there, please pick up a guitar and howl“, and published at the end of last week.

The point was simple enough: with a zealously rightwing government in power, the cuts about to bite and a creeping sense of national dread, where were the pop-cultural voices who might shout their outrage? On balance, I’d say the emails and thread-posts that followed the piece largely agreed with the idea that they’re still in short supply, but plenty of people were anxious to point out that they’re doing what’s required. Just to make it clear: I haven’t yet found the new Clash/Rage Against The Machine/Billy Bragg/whoever, but if you follow some of the pointers below, you can maybe make your own mind up.

First point: as if to underline the fact that twentysomething rage has yet to decisively burst forth, a lot of the stuff that came through was concentrated slightly higher up the age range. Sophie Garner got in touch with a song called Change, promising “lyrics about the morally bankrupt, third-world state I feel is starting to envelop us all”, and “my feelings as I watched a new generation of posh Tory Boys enter stage left” (verdict: not too sure about the words, but the crestfallen ambience is spot on, and God, she can sing). See also one Clayton Denwood, whose song Tryin’ To Resist pours the unsettled spirit of the age into worldly country-ish stuff of the Bob Dylan/Neil Young variety. “It breaks my heart to see these smug ruffians pissing all over anything this country has left to be proud of,” he told me, which is kind of understandable.

And so, via a promising-looking anti-cuts club night called Union City (co-starring the pummellingly industrial My Elastic Eye), to the younger candidates. A bloke from the music publishers Warner Chappell is very excited about their new signings Law Abiding Citizens: remarkably Sex Pistols-esque, maybe a bit too orthodox for their own good (how long has it been since a band went “Oi! Oi! Oi!”?), but possessed of some very welcome snarl, and endorsed by Bonehead out of Oasis. The most promising hope, though, are The Agitator, a self-consciously zeitgeisty duo clearly set on saying something more about the spirit of the age than, say, Mumford and Sons. Whether their Soviet-esque graphics and 1930s attire are quite the right idea I’m not sure – but 1) There’s something here 2) They’re certainly irate 3) Hats off for managing to avoid the programmatic sermonising that so much agit-pop has traditionally fallen into, and 4) Press and attention will surely soon be theirs.

To finish: a nod to the students at the London University of the Arts, and their slightly bamboozling anti-cuts MC Hammer pastiche and Captain SKA’s primary-coloured anti-coalition piece Liar, Liar – which is not exactly subtle, nor great art, but may yet go viral.

Conclusion? There’s life out there, just about. But in the way of resistance, still no real coherence or clout. The wait, I suspect, goes on …

John Harris

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The demo survival guide

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Tomorrow’s student protest looks set to be the biggest of its kind in years. John Harris gives his top tips for those setting out to march

Avoid people who look lairy

Some people like civil disturbances. Others – like me – find them deeply scary experiences, which do not tend to advance the average lefty cause one inch (apart from the poll tax riots, granted). If you’re of a similarly sensitive disposition, distance yourself from people with more dangerous instincts, who are usually easy to spot: they will look very serious, possibly have their faces covered, and perhaps be taking preparatory doses of super-strength lager. On 16 October 1993, I did not know any of this, and having pitched up at an anti-BNP demo in Plumstead, I found myself embroiled in a messy and long-forgotten ruck between such nihilistic desperadoes and the cops (note: the cops usually win – apart from the poll tax riots, granted). Take it from me: even if you’re some distance from the scene, if the police do a charge on horseback, you will brick it.

Wrap up, and take a Thermos

The Iraq war march of 15 February 2003 has gone down in protest folklore for all kinds of reasons – among countless others, it’s still said to have been the biggest British demo of all time, and Kylie Minogue was on it. But as anyone who was there will tell you, it was also an unbelievably cold day, and avoiding going blue by repeatedly darting into Starbucks, Caffè Nero, etc did not really seem in the spirit of the thing (although I still did it). Solution: jumpers, big coats and even thermal underwear. Note also the apparent return to fashion of the vacuum flask, which has its uses, and denies “The Man” your latte money.

. . . and also something to wee in

On 1 May 2001, the Metropolitan Police had their first bash at “kettling” – it means containing a crowd’s furies, like a kettle contains boiling water, or something – when they penned thousands of people into Oxford Circus and an area next to Euston Station, for up to eight hours, sans public conveniences. In 2009, following yet another burst of “kettling” at the G20 protests on 1 April that year, a committee of MPs advised that “toilets, water and medical facilities” should be available to kettled people, so as to make it like Glastonbury without the bands, or freedom of movement. This option – “kettling-lite”, if you will – has yet to be tried.

Have a laugh – it’s allowed

In his novel Saturday, Ian McEwan describes his central character, Henry Perowne, watching the Iraq march. “All this happiness on display is suspect,” he thinks. “Everyone is thrilled to be together on the streets – people are hugging themselves, it seems, as well as each other. If they think – and they could be right – that continued torture and summary executions, ethnic cleansing and occasional genocide are preferable to an invasion, they should be sombre in their view.” Puh-lease! Frivolity on demos is a centuries-old tradition, and enhances the feeling of common cause – and besides, you have to make noise, which you can’t do in a “sombre” way. You might also think of massed displays of happiness as a way of highlighting what a society without war, costly higher education and George Osborne would actually look like. So, sing, jump around, and all that. But don’t bring a whistle. Whistles are for jerks.

If in doubt, ask your elders

The official briefing for today’s march features this advice: “If you are under 18 you are still welcome to attend the demo as long as you have parental consent.” That doesn’t mean you’ll need to bring a note from your mum, but bear it in mind, especially given the possibility of more “kettling” – lite or otherwise.

Be prepared for an anticlimax

From 1.15pm onwards, today’s marchers will congregate at a rally outside Tate Britain. Thus far, the confirmed speakers are one Sally Hunt, the NUS president Aaron Porter, and the underrated Frances O’Grady, deputy general secretary of the TUC. All three will doubtless try their utmost, but most rallies inevitably end the day on a note of drizzly anticlimax. Certainly, I have lost count of the number of times I have stood, shivering, as demagogic lefties of the old school have told us we’re on the verge of the Great Leap Forward, sounding as if even they don’t believe it (cheers, Bob Crow).

So, don’t feel bad about leaving early, and remember: the time-honoured best end to a demo is a visit to the bar, where you can cap your radical credentials by contributing money to those well-known progressives, the brewers. Today’s “after party”, if you’re interested, will take place at the LSE from 3pm onwards.

Avoid crap slogans and chants

Example one: lefty arcana. Back in the mid 1980s, I decided to spend a Saturday morning marching in support of some people made redundant by an air-conditioning firm, based in Sale, Greater Manchester. I spent the entire demo in front of some passionate ultra-lefties, who highlighted their support for sacked air-conditioning workers all over the world by repeatedly shouting: “No to Stalinism and the Popular Front!” As far as I’m aware, no one got their job back.

Example two: archetypally British moderation. In the summer of 2001, I stood among a handful of protesters outside the high court, opposed to the then Labour government’s plans to part-privatise the tube. Precisely what we were all shouting about that day was more than a little arcane – though it essentially revolved around official attempts to stifle a sceptical report about privatisation by the management consultants Deloitte. Anyway, before anything got started, a woman turned up bearing pre-prepared placards, one of which had the mad spirit of rebellion off to a tee: “Let the experts do their job!” Suitably amused, I grabbed it, and appeared holding it aloft on that day’s London Tonight. Wild days.

Come up with inspired slogans and chants

A crude but effective classic: “We hate Tories, and we hate Tories/We hate Tories, and we hate Tories/We hate Tories, and we hate Tories/We are the Tory haters!” Today’s favourites are also likely to include the already- ubiquitous “No ifs! No buts! No education cuts!”, along with plenty of verbal fusillades aimed at the coalition’s U-turning junior partners. Also, a colleague on G2 came up with this: “Fees-fi-fo-fum/We smell the blood of the English young/Be we alive, or be we dead/They’ll grind our bones to keep us in the red.” It’s quite good, we think.

If you haven’t got a placard, don’t panic

For three decades, the Socialist Workers Party has been set on fomenting a revolution and is a dependable provider of placards, at even the most poorly-attended demos. As ever, today’s are likely to feature a slightly pious exhortation (eg “Fight the cuts – but build a socialist education system”), but that’s a mere trifle.

Revel in the history-making magic of it all

Whether, as the organisers hope, you will “make history this November”, you will still have put down a marker within the plotline of your own life story, at least. Some people have already acquiesced, whereas you will have come on a coach to London and blown a whistle/shouted “Lib Dem scum!”/got “kettled”. Sometimes, these things are important.

John Harris

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Someone out there, please pick up a guitar and howl | John Harris

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Public services are being laid to waste and benefits shorn, but popular culture’s voice of dissent remains strangely silent

For those of us who still spend far too much time thinking about what used to be called popular culture, these are fretful times. For more than two years, politics has been in a state of post-crash tumult. Now the government sets about what remains of the social fabric, with order papers waved aloft. And pop culture’s response? Noncommittal, heavy on irony, essentially apolitical. By early 2011, we will have reached a litmus-test moment: if even the full arrival of austerity sparks nothing, we’ll know we live in truly deadened times.

The signs aren’t good. Aside from soap, the idea of mainstream TV and cinema concertedly portraying life at the blunt end now seems as old-fashioned as double-digit inflation. Comedy is no better. The woefully underrated Stewart Lee aside, most halfway successful comedians seem to cleave to a pretty depressing maxim: why meaningfully critique anything when you could be earning good money for boorish silliness on Mock the Week, selling out the O2 arena, and ensuring an autobiography with profanity in the title is doing brisk Christmas business at WH Smith? The same sense of washout prevails in popular fiction – can you imagine a latter-day Alan Sillitoe, Nell Dunn or Shelagh Delaney?

And so it goes: in the midst of public services laid waste, social cleansing via the benefits system, the tripling of the cost of higher education and even worse, the only thing that has so far united any significant number of “creatives” is the cutting of their own subsidies: a sad enough business, but one that creates a response that plays perfectly to the populist stereotype of a cloistered, decadent elite.

And what of pop music? These days, it too often feels like the spirit of dissent is the preserve of past generations, there to be reverentially saluted rather than reinvented. In the United States, one of the most talked-about albums of the season is Wake Up, by singer John Legend and the veteran hip-hop band the Roots – a misplaced attempt to crystallise the condition of modern America via reworkings of consciousness-stirring songs by such icons as Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, which comes off looking like an exercise in sepia-tinted radical chic.

We see a similar thing in the UK. When David Cameron began reminiscing about his love of the Jam, Paul Weller revived his 1979 class-war anthem Eton Rifles on tour (”All that rugby puts hairs on your chest / What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?”), but no one of any note has tried a modern equivalent. If rock history is kept in a glass case, it follows that a once-vibrant tradition of musical protest might be in there with it – so look, don’t touch.

That said, four or five years ago musical social comment temporarily came back, and there was a run of stuff about crap jobs, smalltown tedium, and the thin rattle of small change. Thanks chiefly to the Arctic Monkeys, it momentarily defined the fashionable rock aesthetic circa 2006 – and even though the songs that resulted were free of any hardened politics, they were a start. But now, the modern scene looks to be divided between two schools of thought: art-for-art’s sake (witness the comically abstract Manchester-based group Everything Everything – “So how will they remember us whole, when we turn into salt?” pleads a frantic song titled Qwerty Finger), and the quest for rustic authenticity that drives the ubiquitous Mumford & Sons – privately educated fans of John Steinbeck, though for his windswept romance rather than his sociopolitical bite. Neither approach holds out the promise of much anger or agitation: one would imagine that either of these artists could soundtrack a Saturday night soiree at Chequers.

So it is that one’s thoughts once again turn bleak: when the Berlin wall fell and the gospel of no alternative took hold, maybe the culture was inevitably changed for keeps. And perhaps a good deal of the story lies in pop’s own passage into middle-age and the fact that its various incarnations now span not just most of the planet but almost the entire generational range. Ubiquity may have robbed it of its old counter-cultural charge; as it turned out, perhaps what some romantics call the People’s Music is better suited to selling mobile phones than soundtracking revolt. The upshot: if you have seditious thoughts, why would you express them via free-market capitalism’s favourite art form?

Forty is far too old to be driven mad by any of pop music’s supposed failings. But there are truths about our times that most politicians have no wish to tell, and songwriters should be feasting on: 18 millionaires in the cabinet; a war on the poor; the return of a born-to-rule elite, now clad in weekend casualwear and affecting glottal stops, but still reeking of grouse moors and arrogance. This is surreal, mind-boggling stuff. The last time anything comparable happened, my generation’s response was couched in the vocabulary of the old left; now, I’d love to hear genuine 21st-century dissent.

To end, then, an appeal to some unknown neurotic outsider, stranded in God-knows-where, and minded to pick up a guitar and howl their outrage: please, prove me wrong.

John Harris

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