Culture / Politics

Poptastic politicians

Maybe more even than at the time they were uttered, the words of Alastair Burnet at the outset of the BBC’s October 1974 election programme ought to echo through the land: ‘This is an hour of the greatest importance to this country – our futures depend on it.’ Except, just as those words were a prelude to hearing the latest betting odds from Julian Wilson at a William Hill betting shop, so I propose now to write about pop stars.

With a general election now on, the parties are rushing to select candidates, and the Brexit Party is no exception. Many of those selected have received a little ridicule (understandable, as the only other objective reaction to the continued presence of Nigel Farage in English public life is undiluted horror), but truly raising eyebrows to heights for which they were not designed is their challenger in Kensington, Jay Aston Colquhounis, once a singer in the gang of four that truly defined the 1980s, Bucks Fizz.

Even as Cheryl Baker, Mike Nolan and Bobby G (whose Wikipedia entry respectfully refers to him as ‘G’) have remained above the fray, Ashton has, er, made her mind up, to take the UK out of the, how can I put it, land of make believe that is the EU. ‘As an MP, I will work to rebuild trust and help the Brexit Party make the necessary reforms to unite the country after we break free of the European Union,’ she quipped.

Should Aston Colquhounis unseat her fellow triple–named opponent Emma Dent Coad in a constituency not noted for its Euroscepticism, she would present an unusual (if stripped of its usual harmonic accompaniment) voice. As with sportspeople, your common or garden pop star has been less likely to head for the House of Commons than for inferior foreign legislatives with electors more likely to be won over by such vulgar show-offs (think Sonny Bono in the US House of Representatives, Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett in the Australian cabinet and Youssou N’Dour as a Senegalese minister). Perhaps that’s inevitable in a system that offers fewer opportunities for a celebrity of any stripe to spend their way to electoral success without first winning over a local party in some committee room in an ugly municipal building.

That said, Bucks Fizz – the spiritual opposite of a committee room in an ugly municipal building – was always a political training ground, very much a bleached blond PPE. Only in May, David van Day (who despite his suspiciously continental–sounding name joined after leaving that most Euro–snubbing of groups, Dollar) was elected a Conservative councillor in Thurrock. He also proved to be a rare voice against political correctness in a Daily Express interview, stating: ‘I think the PC world has gone a bit crazy. I think there’s going to be a thought police soon. Nothing would surprise me.’

That both Van Day and Ashton have swiped right when it comes to politics would seem to go against the grain. After all, although Bono (Sonny, not the Irish fella) was a Republican, the politics espoused by most in the pop community, if that is a thing, are of what Van Day might mock as right–on.

For the most part, former rock musicians who have crossed the floor to elected office have done so in a leftward direction – SNP MP and former Runrig and Big Country keyboard player Pete Wishart, or Norfolk County Councillor, and erstwhile Blur drummer, Dave Rowntree (who, appropriately, sits on the records committee). And obviously Billy Bragg made a rare appearance above the political parapet when he briefly took the lead on House of Lords reform.

It seems natural that those on the more indie or folky sides of the spectrum tend towards the red side of that palette – after all Runrig singer Donnie Munro once stood for Labour against Charles Kennedy. But those of purer pop tendencies often have a hue more blue (though the band Blue themselves have kept their politics to themselves).

Why, who was that pouting politely in David Cameron’s famed A–list of modern Tory candidates in 2006, just between Zac Goldsmith, Priti Patel, Amber Rudd and Louise Bagshawe (as was), but beefcake singer and actor Adam Rickitt. Unlike most of his fellow A-listers, he never stood for public office, instead ending up on Hollyoaks – would that many of his putative political colleagues were now seen in the half hour before Channel 4 News rather than the bulletin itself.

While Rickitt was tentatively fingering the greasy pole, a melodic heartthrob of a previous generation, Spandau Ballet vocalist Tony Hadley, addressed the 2007 Conservative Party conference, and later suggested political differences with the left–leaning Gary Kemp was the reason he quit the reformed band in 2017.

On the other side, there seem to have been few attempts by Labour to recruit stars of pop beyond the odd Blur drummer, and none so bold as Tom Driberg’s reported 1960s approach to Mick Jagger, which foundered on the fact that the future Baron Bradwell’s interest in the future Sir Michael might not have been entirely political.*

There have been some independents. British-born Dana went from winning Eurovision for Ireland to representing an Irish constituency in the European Parliament, while Dave ‘Superyob’ Hill of Slade served on the Lower Penn parish council from 1998, where he took his responsibilities seriously – ‘It was a bit like entering the set of The Vicar of Dibley,’ he said, ‘but a lot of important work for our area gets done at the meetings.’ And then there was Jonathan King, the Royalist Party candidate in the Epsom and Ewell by-election in 1978, who later recorded ‘We Can’t Let Maggie Go’ (shortly after the Conservative Party had decided to do just that in 1990), and who has more recently come out in support of Jeremy Corbyn.

When it comes to the one-time voices of British youth, Radio 1 DJs, the nearest any seem to have come to standing for political office is formerly Conservative-supporting wacky funster Adrian Justenominating a UKIP local council candidate. His leanings were shared by formerly Conservative–supporting wacky funster Mike Read.

There was, however, one recording artist who rose to party leadership. David ‘Screaming Lord’ Sutch got no closer to becoming an MP than to having a #1 single but did once come close to saving his deposit in Rotherham, and perhaps dealt the death blow to the original SDP.**

On the other hand, politics is littered with frustrated pop stars who never even achieved the musical status of a Sutch, most famously Ugly Rumours frontman Tony Blair, but also Alan Johnson, Stephen Pound and one–time Rick Astley guitarist turned Morecambe MP David Morris – not to mention the likes of Ken Livingstone and Neil Kinnock guesting on songs or in videos.

Jay Aston Colquhounis, then, would bring a fresh new youth vibe (from just under forty years ago) to the hallowed benches should the people of Kensington have a collective brainmelt and vote for her.*** It would certainly be the most edifying mixing of pop and politics since Ronnie Corbett took on inflation via the medium of the 45rpm single in 1970.


Bucks Fizz, with Jay Aston on the left (of the photo)

* Jagger himself was to become a tax exile, have happier future meetings with Margaret Thatcher, and record ‘Let’s Work‘. Though his 1960s interest in left–wing politics seems to have been genuine.

** The 1997 manifesto of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party was ghost written for Lord Sutch by Alwyn Turner of this parish.

*** Or ‘finally put into Parliament someone prepared to carry out the will of the good honest British taxpayer’. (I’m not taking sides here.)

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