Rant

I mentioned in passing a while ago that it’s hard to have one of my Saturday morning rants sometimes, because satirical behemoths Have I Got News For You (BBC1) and The News Quiz (BBC Radio 4) have already aired and I worry that I may be accused of stealing someone’s point, or worse, their joke.

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve not yet listened to this week’s edition of The News Quiz, but I have watched this week’s edition of Have I Got News For You and my heart sank when one of the panellists made exactly the same point as I intended to make in this post. I’ll let you know when I get to it.

Other than the continuingly inept handling of the Covid crisis, the big story over the past couple of weeks has been Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to ensure that whilst the crisis continues, he’d rather children whose parents were unable to work because of the crisis didn’t starve. Of course, that ethic extends to all children, but the main thrust is those whose families are directly affected by Covid in terms of their ability to work.

Mistake number one by the Government: having acquiesced to his previous campaign, they awarded him an MBE thinking that would be enough to make him go away. But here he still is, being a pain and asking for more.

Quite right too: we’re nowhere near beating Covid, more and more areas are being pushed into Tier 3 restrictions and things are not getting any easier for a lot of people.

And yet: his proposal to extend the free school meals provision for those on Universal Credit or equivalent into half-terms and the Christmas holidays was backed by a Labour motion, which called for the scheme to be extended even longer, into school holidays until Easter 2021. It was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – a majority of 61.

I imagine those “up North” who lent the Conservatives their vote at the last election, only to see their local areas dealt with entirely differently to, say, us in That London, are really pleased with their decision and will be doing so again next time around.

By way of justification for voting down a bill which seems such a no-brainer to vote for, a whole stream of Tory MPs we’ve never heard of before were pushed in front of TV cameras to justify the Goverment’s position, and pretty much all of them gave this as the reason: parents have to learn to feed their children without the Government’s help. They should learn to not rely on hand-outs and freebies.

Mistake number two by the Government: don’t double down on a decision which in effect says: poor children can starve for all we care.

And this is where my point chimes with a panellist on Have I Got News For You and I have to say I was most surprised the panellist in question was Tory peer Baroness Warsi.

For MPs have a subsidised bar and restaurant within the Houses of Parliament. And to clarify what that means: MPs get to eat and drink cheaply, and we pay the balance. I’m sure they’re all demanding to pay full price in there. Or maybe not, given the situation with the MPs pay rise.

It was recently announced that ministers will still get the MPs’ pay rise along with all members of the House of Commons, but they will not receive any increase on the separate salary they receive on top as members of the government.

The annual rise for MPs is based on a comparison with public sector pay and is subject to a consultation process which ends in November, with a final decision expected the following month and the rise taking effect from April 2021.

On top of their MP’s pay of almost £82,000, ministers receive separate government salaries worth £75,440 for the prime minister, £67,505 for secretaries of state and between £22,375 and £31,680 for lower-ranking ministers. 

Recently, it was leaked that Boris was “struggling to survive” on such a meagre income. Perhaps the CSA have finally caught up with him for all those children he’s somehow managed to father. Whatever, my heart bleeds for the poor man, getting paid all that money to do a job he can’t do.

But this goes further than that. You’ll doubtless recall the expenses scandal from 2009 – do you think that has stopped entirely? Or that MPs no longer accept (and declare) any freebies that come their way? Really, if you follow the logic of their argument through, then they should learn to live without these gratuities, right?

Well, as it happens, the 322 Conservative MPs who voted against extending Free School Meals during holidays have themselves accepted £130,780.72 of “declarable” free hospitality during the last (pandemic hit) year. So we have a classic case of “do as I say, but not as I do”.

For example: the Conservative MP for Chippenham, Michelle Donelan, voted “No” to free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021, yet she happily accepted £494.23 worth of complimentary pizza for a party.

For example: the Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald, Helen Grant, voted “No” to free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021, yet she accepted £500.00 worth of complimentary food and drink for a party of 50 people.

For example: the Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, Sajid Javid, voted “No” to free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021, yet he received £713.70 worth of complimentary wine.

For example: Anthony Mangnall, Conservative Member of Parliament for Totnes and South Devon, and Darren Henry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe, voted “No” to free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021 yet received, respectively, £3000 to assist with living costs and £2850 to assist with rent in his constituency.

For example (a bit more high-profile this one): Michael Gove, Conservative MP for Surrey Heath and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster voted “No” to free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021, but accepted £2340.00 hospitality from Manchester City and the FA.

I could go on, but I may as well just direct you to @grumpyfactcheck on Twitter who provided all of those stats which I’ve used without their permission (I don’t think they’ll mind) and who has posted many, many more examples of Tory hypocrisy.

All these MPs who quite literally have learned to rely on hand-outs and freebies.

And this is the thing, and it goes back to the whole Cummings driving to Durham and then for a two hour jaunt to check his eyesight: we all know there’s one rule for the toffs and one rule for the oiks, and most of the time, though we might shout about it and stamp a bit every now and then, we just accept that’s the way things are.

But in the dangerous, scary times we find ourselves in now, and as the Government vacuously trumpets that “we’re all in this together”, wouldn’t it be nice if just for a second we might think that’s true?

Some songs, the first of which I dedicate to every Conservative MP who voted the bill down but has accepted any freebie or gratuity:

I have a solution to all of this, and I’m with Lemmy (RIP) on this one:

Imagine the crackling on Boris. Yummy.

I don’t know what else to say except that this is the next song on the Mixing Pop and Politics mix-tape I’ve mentioned before, and right now it seems a better idea than at any time before:

More soon.

Mixing Pop and Politics

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post with this title after I had discovered an old C90 cassette I had made during my student days, featuring pop songs with political messages. The plan was that I would post all of the songs from the tape, and see whether, thirty years later, they held any current relevance.

That was in July, and here we are, three months later, and not a single additional post has appeared in the series.

Until today, and even this post isn’t going to include anything from said outdated mode of musical storage. (It will return again, but you’ll just have to remain on the edge of your seats a little longer, I’m afraid.)

The subject crossed my radar again a couple of times recently, watching coverage of the US Election trail, and I was reminded that American politicians – make that American Republican politicians – have a proud history in using songs without the artistes’ permission, and, more often than not, using the song quite wrongly.

King of the unendorsed usage has to be Bruce Springsteen, and specifically Born in the USA. Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan all used it at election rallies, and all received “cease and desist” notifications from Bruce.

To the untrained eye and ear, Born in the USA does sound like the sort of song a right wing politician should use to brighten up their campaign: it has a gloriously patriotic title, which is also the whole of the chorus; the iconic album cover depicts what appears to be a jean-wearing blue-collar worker, baseball cap stuffed in back pocket, standing in front of the good ol’ stars and stripes.

But when I say “to the untrained eye and ear” I actually mean anyone who has only ever seen that picture, had only ever heard what appears to be a triumphant fanfare at the start of the record which develops into the musical motif running throughout the song, and had never listened to any of the lyrics other than the title/the chorus. A pro-American record it most definitely is not:

It’s not just Springsteen who has a whole line of Republicans mistakenly using his tunes. John Mellencamp has had run-ins with as many of them as he has had own name changes. Just like glamour model and *ahem* best selling author Katie Price now insists on not being called Jordan anymore, and footballer Andy Cole asked everyone to start calling him Andrew, both because they had ‘matured’, so Mellencamp has been variously known as John Cougar, John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp, and now just plain John Mellencamp.

On this side of the pond, he’s simply known as ‘the bloke who sang that song which introduced us to a foodstuff we have not embraced with quite the same vigour as our trans-Atlantic friends’ (by which I mean our friends from across the Atlantic, not our friends from across the Atlantic who are also trans – and that’s one open can I’m not going anywhere near): the ‘chilli dog’.

Sorry, I seem to have digressed: that’s not one of the songs appropriated by politicians, I’ve just included it because it’s ruddy great.

No, Mellencamp has locked horns with Reagan for using Pink Houses in 1984, John McCain for using the same song as well as Our Country in 2008, and with George W Bush in 2000 over the use of R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.

I’m not familiar with Pink Houses or Our Country, but I am very familiar with R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. as I bought it on 7″ single when I was a kid. And I’m here to tell you, it’s a little cracker:

Quite what lead the Bush campaign to land on that song is a bit of a mystery to me; I can see how it works in terms of The American Dream, for it’s a song about the early days of rock’n’roll, of Tamla Motown and Stax, a song which describes people from all walks of life – but usually ones from poor backgrounds – setting off to make music, doing what they want to do, in the self-proclaimed Land of the Free.

But it includes a list of successful black artists (“…there was…Frankie Lymon…Jackie Wilson, Shangri-La’s, Young Rascals…Martha Reeve….James Brown”) and let’s be honest, ensuring young black Americans achieve success in whatever field they choose (unless it’s in an actual field) has been shown (again) to be not exactly high on the list of Republican priorities over the past few months.

The song seems to have been picked solely for including the phrase “U.S.A.”, which can be shouted loudly along to it. Although I don’t think we can exclude the possibility that it’s usage also helped Dubya with his spelling lessons.

“Today’s letter, Georgie, is R. Ruh. R. And what does R stand for?”

“Rocket?”

“That’s good, Georgie,but it’s not quite what I was looking for. Rock. Ruh stands for Rock. Now what does O stands for….?”

“Oil?”

“Very good, Georgie, well done. Have a pretzel, you clever thing. Careful, don’t eat it all at once!”

Another American rocker not shy of issuing “cease and desist” notices was Tom Petty, who clashed with George W Bush when he used this song:

And this, which was appropriated by Republican/Tea Party/Lunatic candidate Michele Bachmann in 2011, and there’s no real mystery why she would select this absolute pearler:

Ahhh, 2011. It’s weird getting nostalgic for a time such a short while ago, but wasn’t it wonderful when all we had to worry about was the Tea Party nut-jobs on the fringes of the Republican party, as opposed to the actual nut-job occupying the White House now?

Actually, to digress for a moment, that song takes me back to the early 1990s, when I was, far too briefly for my liking, working in the Virgin Megastore in Cardiff. Lowlight of my time there: serving one of my college lecturers, who didn’t recognise me at all, and when I explained who I was and how he knew me, just looked at me as if to say: “Yes, I thought this might be where you’d end up working”.

Highlights of my time there: selling the entire Echo & The Bunnymen back catalogue to Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers and, one evening, after the doors were closed and we were cashing up and tidying up, somebody put American Girl on the in-store sound system, and you could palpably feel the mood lift: everyone was singing along and dancing and twirling and hand-clapping as they completed their chores, like some choreographed moment from a high school musical. Happy times.

Also in 2008, John McCain used Foo Fighters’ My Hero:

Anyway. I could go on about all these improper uses of songs all day as there’s a whole list of them, but it’s a list that includes Nickelback and if you think I’m posting a song by them you are very mistaken, my friend.

So here’s why the subject cropped up on my radar the other week: because I read that Trump had been using this song at his rallies:

Now that, you have to concede, is a bold choice for Trump to use, for so many reasons.

Firstly: it’s called Fortunate Son, which can only serve to remind us that Trump didn’t make all of the money he has amassed (apart from the stuff that the Russians have given him, I mean), as that was all inherited from his father, Fred, who, lest we forget was a German immigrant – but a white one, so not one DJT would have an issue with now, natch – who made his own fortune (American Dream: tick!) in the thoroughly reputable world of real estate. In 1997, when his worth exceeded a billion dollars, he transferred the majority of his buildings to his surviving children, who sold them in 2004 for over 16 times their previously declared worth, effectively dodging hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Fortunate, indeed.

Speaking of tax, the song even mentions the taxman (“…But when the taxman comes to the door, Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale…”) which given the recent revelation that in 2017 Trump paid just $750.00 in Federal Income Taxes, seems remarkably apt.

The song, itself is, broadly, about how the sons of wealthy, powerful politicians and businessmen managed to avoid the draft to the Vietnam War because of daddy’s status. Trump, famously, didn’t have to go fight because of his “bone spurs” which are bony lumps that grow on the bones of the spine or around the joints, or, in Trump’s case, his feet. In 2019, his former lawyer Michael Cohen testified that Trump had invented the condition so that he didn’t have to do his national duty.

You have to conclude that whoever picked Fortunate Son to soundtrack his rallies knew exactly what they were doing, for it perfectly highlights all of the reasons you shouldn’t vote for Trump.

And this was a theory which Armando Iannucci floated on Frankie Boyle’s New World Order this week: that there is a Democrat working within the Trump campaign who has been given the responsibility of choosing appropriate records to play at the rallies. And given this remit, boy have they run with it, selecting not just Fortunate Son but also the music used in this clip, which I promise you has not been added after the rally, this actually happened:

Some excellent “working-the-crowd” gestures there from the Wotsit-coloured Wonder. Be afraid, Bono. He’s a pair of leather trousers, one foot-on-a-monitor, and a pair of redundant sunglasses behind you.

In case you’re not familiar with the record that soundtracks that clip, it’s YMCA by Village People, a song which, pretty much, promotes the idea of gay sex in Christian hostels. Here’s a picture of Village People from their hey-day:

Exactly the sort of fine, upstanding young men one would expect to find amongst Trump’s core voters.

Village People, you will not be even slightly surprised to learn, have asked Trump to stop playing the song at his rallies. I’m hoping instead they have permitted him to use their follow up hit:

There’s a joke about that submarine being full of seamen somewhere in there, but I’ll leave you to make it at your own leisure.

More soon.

Mixing Pop and Politics

This morning’s post was going to be the next instalment of The Chain, but I’ve decided to have a jiggle around with the running order, so this will appear over the next few days.

In the meantime: I’ve been listening to a load of old cassettes recently, 90% of which are mix-tapes, 95% of which have no covers or explanation attached. The purpose is to a) see if they still play (most of them do, which given that they haven’t been near a tape deck for the best part of 20 years is, frankly, amazing) and b) to find out what the heck is on them.

One of the mix-tapes I found has the above title, a picture sleeve (which I hope to be able to scan on and share at some point) and a track listing. Looking at the tracks on it, I think I must have made it when I was away at college, which would date it around the 1988 – 1990 mark.

Since I’m on a self-enforced hiatus from talking about ISSUES, I thought I might post some of the songs which feature on said mix-tape, all by performers who are far better at articulating succinctly than I am.

And where better place to start than with the song from which that title is shamelessly pilfered?

“Mixing pop and politics, he asks me what the use is?

I offer him embarrasment and my usual excuses.”

I speak, of course, of none other than Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards, the closing track on (in my opinion) that last truly great album that Billy Bragg made, Worker’s Playtime. (Don’t get me wrong, there are more recent albums by him that I like a lot, but this was the last one that I truly loved.)

Waiting…. is such a wonderful song, starting with just Billy and his guitar and building to a call and response crescendo, backed by a full band. It’s laced with comic observations, historical references, and words of hope and frustration that The Great Leap hasn’t happened yet.

Most of you will know this record of course, but for those of you who don’t (and for those of you who do and just want to hear it again), here you go:

Billy Bragg – Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

Magnificent.

The other thing I love about Billy’s output at the time, is that every record had that “Pay No More Than…” written on the front. This was, I believe, standard for the Utility label on which it was released; certainly I own other records released on the same label which carried the same instruction. What this meant was that retailers couldn’t charge more, as UK trading law stipulates that where there are multiple prices for the same item, they had to charge the lowest one shown.

And yes, I can hear some of you young ‘uns muttering about how a download these days only costs £0.79 per song on average, but consider this: back then, a single would cost you a couple of quid and unlike now, where you just get a button to press to play, back then (and again, now, with the resurgance in vinyl) you used to get an actual item, which you could hold, read, physically remove from its sleeve, place on a turntable and drop a stylus on to it.

Oh dear. I appear to have a) made A POINT and b) turned into a bit of an old “it was better when I was young” fuddy duddy.

Ah well. I can live with that.

As a special treat, then, here’s Billy performing Waiting… at a gig I’ve got buried away somewhere on an old VHS tape. He’s joined on stage for the crescendo by Michelle Shocked and various member of The Beatnigs. And if that’s not enough, luckily for you, there’s a few songs before we get to Waiting…, namely A New England (without the extra verse dedicated to Kirsty MacColl, which dates this to before her sad passing), Tender Comrade, Ideology (with an extra verse likening the UK Government of the time with the apartheid-loving South African Government), and then there’s Waiting… which, let’s just say Billy has a lot of fun updating the words to (as he often does, regular Bragg-gig attendees will attest).

More soon.