The great cultural change of the modern world has been the meteoric rise of music to pole position among both the creative and performing arts, in terms of status, influence and material reward. One of the clearest indicators has been the response of politicians. As New Labour starts to look rather old, one of the most poignant images of its palmy days is the much much-reproduced photograph of Tony Blair greeting Noel Gallagher of the rock group at 10 Downing Street shortly after the 1997 general election. Also at the party was Alan McGee, owner o the Creation Records who was appointed by Blair to the Creative Task Force.
Invited to dinner at Chequers later that year, McGee wrote a revealing account of the evening: “We didn’t know what to expect. I was wearing a suit, Kate [McGee’s wife] was dressed up. When we drove up to the house, there were SWAT teams everywhere: guys crawling around on the grass, with guns. He [Blair] answered the door wearing jeans, with a pint in his hand. We went in, and that was when it got totally fucking psychedelic. Judi Dench was there, a guy from Psion computers, that author, John O’Farrell… and Jimmy Savile. I introduced him to Kate, and he started kind of sucking her fingers. It was all totally weird.”
Predictably, this alliance between New Labour and Britpop was of short duration. Soon, the Minister of Culture, Chris Smith, began to have second thoughts, lamenting later: “Judging by our critics, we are a platoon of philistines that have had to boogie to Oasis.” He blamed this mistaken image on “the famous photograph of the Prime Minister with Noel”, adding ruefully: “I think that with hindsight, allowing an iconic image of that kind to become common currency was a mistake.” But it was Smith, whose own tastes were for high culture, who proved to be out of step with the régime, and he was dismissed in 2001.
This determination on the part of politicians to associate themselves with popular music dates back to the early 1960s and the first eruption of youth culture. Surprisingly, it was the Conservatives who were quickest off the mark. Perhaps because he had been a journalist (and was later to be editor of the Daily Telegraph), Bill Deedes, a cabinet minister at the time, sensed that the Beatles’ triumphant tour of the US in early 1964 marked a cultural watershed. He told the City of London Young Conservatives that the Beatles heralded “a cultural movement among the young, which may become part of the history of our time. For those with eyes to see it, something important and heartening is happening here.” Although vilified by the more reactionary members of his party, Deedes’s views were adopted by the leaders. -Conservative parliamentary candidates were advised to mention the Beatles (favourably) as often as possible in their speeches, and the Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, hailed them as “our best -exports”, making “a useful contribution to the balance of payments”.
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