Flicking through Twitter the other day I saw an interesting conversation between Labour MPs about what the best Smiths song is. I was interested because I couldn’t see Conservative MPs doing the same thing, and if they had, I imagine they’d have been harangued by the left for having the audacity to like a protest band.
And it would be quite right to harangue them. The Smiths’ music is beautiful, melodic, thoughtful and totally at odds with what Thatcherism and even compassionate conservatism stands for. If you’re a Conservative MP feel free to like The Smiths in private, but to say you like it publicly, for anything other than its musicality, leaves you open to accusations of hypocrisy.
To a new generation of Labour MPs, born in the late sixties and early seventies, The Smiths were a key component of the anti-Thatcher counter culture of the mid-eighties. For budding politicians on the left The Smiths sympathetic lyrics about the dispossessed and the unwanted were perfectly aligned to their own feelings of what they perceived as an uncaring government.
And as a result The Smiths hold a special place in the hearts of many Labour politicians, who are fiercely defensive of the band. Just like the football fans who so hate the gentrification of their sport so do Labour hate the idea of the right enjoying their music.
There’s no better way to illustrate this than their response to the news that old-Etonian David Cameron was a fan of The Smiths. Listening to the reaction it might as well have been Bernard Manning telling everyone he’d always harboured a secret love for Tofu and Salman Rushdie.
Such was the indignation of Labour MPs that Hazel Blears actually tried to stop David Cameron from visiting Salford lads Club (Cameron was intending to mirror the iconic image of the band in front of the building). On preventing Cameron from taking the picture she apparently took a picture of herself with the club in the background and sent it to Cameron saying “David, sorry you didn’t get in the picture! All the best from Salford. Hazel.”
But the problem with Labour’s appropriation of The Smiths is that the theme running through all of Morrissey’s music is a rallying cry against the establishment. The Tories just happened to be part of the establishment at the time they were active. In fact in much of Morrissey’s later work he bemoans both major parties – “I’ve been dreaming of a time when The English are sick to death of Labour and Tory” and has called Labour’s most successful leader ever, Tony Blair, an “egotistical dictator”.
But this is of course to be expected. Morrissey is a pacifist, an anti-monarchist, an iconoclast and a revolutionary. You can hardly expect him to be enamoured by a pro-monarchist party whose guiding aim is to occupy the executive position of the establishment.
When Hazel Blears was defending The Salford Lads Club from a visit from David Cameron she was doing so from a position as a member of the cabinet and a member of the Privy Council - an MP who had voted for the Iraq War and for replacing Trident. I can’t imagine Morrissey was too thrilled about her invoking the spirit of The Smiths either.
So for those sensitive Smiths fans out there yes please do criticise David Cameron for openly liking The Smiths. But criticise Labour MPs too. Their music wasn’t designed for Tories, but I dare say it wasn’t designed for Labour MPs either.