Thursday, 8 September 2016

UB40 for satirists please

It always used to be the case that the Labour Party attracted the support of cool celebrities, musicians and artists while the Conservatives were left with the meagre joys of end of pier comedians and Peter Stringfellow.

Just think of those early days after Tony Blair's election in 1997 - the moment when Cool Britannia flowered briefly before being hastily deadheaded - when the likes of Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher were eager to be photographed with the new, rockstaresque, prime minister. And, in 2000, while Nelson Mandela addressed the Labour Party conference, the Tories had Jim Davidson instead. This is despite the alleged comedian having been happy, in his 1993 autobiography, to write about poking his then wife in the eye, ending with the hilarious quip: 'I actually went for the mouth. Thank heaven I missed, I'd have fallen in. I just took a playful punch.' How the blue rinses must have laughed.

Yes, this was the stuff for satirists. And, more recently, the Three Brexiteers, Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox – awkwardly yoked together by the canny Theresa May – could easily have entertained us all in their own sitcom with their bickering over who nicked the milk or failed to replace the toilet paper in the Chevening House farce in which they all star. But, think of the poor satirist being faced with Jeremy Corbyn’s recent liaison with UB40 – or, at least, one version of the group, if not the one with the original lead singer: what is he to make of this?

Today, for reasons I have yet to fathom, Jeremy Corbyn was joined by UB40 on stage at the Royal Society of Arts where they endorsed him as leader of the Labour Party, claiming he had:

're-ignited an interest in politics for people who no longer felt included, and engaged and inspired a new generation of young voters who, for the first time, believe that they have an incorruptible politician who truly represents them.'

UB40, of course, is hardly an up and coming band riding on the crest of a popular wave of youthful fans; it is an ageing band that was involved with the not entirely successful Red Wedge movement of the 1980s, had split up famously acrimoniously and featured a set of siblings who no longer talk to one another. As this event was being planned, that no one within Labour's strategy team piped up and questioned, just for a moment, whether seeking the backing of such a group an might not be the best metaphor for the modern Labour Party, is little short of astonishing.

Last week, Jeremy Corbyn unveiled an interesting, ambitious, arts policy, pledging to reverse Conservative cuts in arts education and widening opportunity for pupils to participate in the music and arts. How exactly it was to be funded was not entirely clear, but there is a theme to develop, though this event provided no such opportunity. Moreover, I think, prior to the event, there were were very few people on the planet who wondered where UB40, or indeed UB40 with Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue, stood in the Labour leadership battle.

But, for a moment, just think of that satirist. When Ed Miliband emerged with his tablet of stone with his elections pledges for the May 2015 General Election, it was easy to imagine such a scenario appearing in The Thick of It or Yes Minister. But, it is impossible to imagine Armando Iannucci would have come up yesterday's scene, where the Labour leader was presumably trying to garner support rather than appear absurd. Similarly, it's hard to think any writer of fiction would invent the desperate, colour of Donald Trump, who seamlessly combines extremist bile and egregious banality without ever knowing the difference. Strange days indeed.

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