Beat Politics: The Awkward History Of Politicians Quoting Musicians


Written by Daniel Haze
02 Monday 02nd October 2017


As the years have gone by rhetoric used by politicians has become anemic and dull. Gone are the days of rousing political oratory that would win over the masses when bread and circuses weren’t enough. People are now wise enough to know that politicians probably aren’t speaking for us, avoid the point and basically chat shit. Due to this, politicians have started to appropriate another form of discourse - pop music. Pop songs have long been used to portray a specific political message - whether it be against the system or not, music has a long and civic-minded history. But does it make sense for MPs to start spitting bars in the Gafs of Parliament? Here we look at some booky uses of lyrics in politics and ponder when it’s appropriate to use the Top 40 libretto.

Firstly let’s go back to a pre-Brexit Britain, when alongside spending all of his time in PMQ’s prioritising a suit and tie over the NHS (missed a potential lyrical trick there with Timberlake’s smash hit). David Cameron also found time to quote one of the UK’s most seminal bands, The Smiths. In one of his final PMQ’s Dodgy Dave quoted lyrics from ‘Cemetry Gates’ in a misguided jab at Jeremy Corbyn - who instead of “entering the political graveyard” continues to shake the establishment.

Of course, Cameron’s intent was to highlight his speech-writing prowess and intelligence, yet this failed on both accounts. Not only did he misquote a song that he was forbidden to like by Johnny Marr "Stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't," he wrote on Twitter, adding: "I forbid you to like it." He also failed to grasp the irony of using the lyrics of a subversive band to peddle his conservative views.

Way back in 2010, Labour MP Kerry McCarthy asked Cameron which Smith’s song he thought the country's student population would be listening to due to Tory policies. He responded by saying that he probably wouldn’t be welcomed with ‘This Charming Man’...His sardonic retort, showed awareness of his own wrongdoing, yet no remorse. By again trying to approximate a voice that belongs to a demographic that he is evidently failing, the former PM reveals his biggest flaw, his inability to listen.

If we look at the other side of commons it’s a different story. Labour MP Sarah Jones demonstrated that using song lyrics in parliament doesn’t always have to be a lame grab at the youth vote that actually undercuts any form of urbanitas because of it's complete hypocrisy. In her ‘maiden’ speech in the House of Lords on July 12th, as she cast off into the choppy waters of British politics, Jones quoted Stormzy, reminding her fellow MPs that, ‘You’re never too big for the boot’.  David Cameron was a Bullington big wig who used the words of a working class band to indemnify his ulterior motives. Jones however, is the first female MP in the Croydon constituency, where Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo, Jr is from. She was also voted in on the back of the biggest youth vote turnout in history, a demographic that arguably make up the majority of Stormzy’s fanbase. It seems fitting then, for her to use Stormzys lyrics in her first address; she got into parliament by speaking to the people and by using Stormzy’s lyrics she reminds her followers that she speaks for them too.

Music is so often a form of protest, a way of getting a message heard and it shouldn’t be appropriated by the very institutions it intends to disrupt. In a time where a song charting at number 3 in the charts is not played on the radio because it criticizes the Prime Minister, we should be more vigilant than ever and not let one of our few forms of protest be diluted by politicians or silenced by corporations.

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