Thatcher: Bad for Britain, Good for Music - Articles - Soundblab

Thatcher: Bad for Britain, Good for Music

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Thatcher - Huh! What was she good for? Absolutely nothing, except setting the pop charts alight with some of the best protest songs ever written. I mean, she's only been dead a week and already we've got a weird, munchkin-sung protest song at number two in the charts. When was the last time a protest song that wasn't about X Factor got in the UK charts? Probably sometime when Thatcher was in power, right?

Margaret Thatcher became prime minster during the early fermentation of post-punk and immediately, deliberately became the most divisive political leader modern Britain had ever seen. In some ways, she was as much an embodiment of virulent, extreme individualism as Johnny Rotten. They both represented the end of the 70s 'consensus culture', both in politics and in pop. However, most punks were lefties, or at least generally anti-establishment, and Thatcher's hard-right stance meant that soon the various factions of post-punk had a new villain to take pot-shots at.

While the 80s were a dark, painful time for many in the UK, there's no denying that music as a form of protest enjoyed something of a golden age while the iron lady was in power. The Falklands War, the miners' strike, Clause 28 and privatisation gave songwriters and pop stars from Billy Bragg to Boy George a common enemy and a shared understanding when it came to the language of protest.

That sense of shared ideology, even the very idea that musicians should stand for something more than harmless entertainment, is now completely missing from pop. Look at Mumford & Sons (actually, don't, I don't want to put you off your lunch). Here's a so-called folk band without a single agitprop bone in their collective body. The endless parade of skinny-jeaned NME bands might walk the walk, but do they stand for something the way The Specials or The Smiths did? No, of course they don't. Why would they?

This isn't some rose-tinted, "at least with Thatcher you knew where you were" bollocks. As Alexei Sayle so succinctly observed: You knew where you were with Thatcher - you were fucked. But something has changed, apparently forever. These days, things just seem be to be less black and white.

The very fact that thousands have chosen to express their anger at the state-funeral-in-all-but-name being held for Thatcher today by buying 'Ding Dong the Witch is Dead' is troubling. On the one hand, you have small-state Tories demanding the tax payer should fork out millions for Maggie's funeral, while on the other, lefties are forking out to buy a co-opted musical number as their protest, many of them no doubt purchasing it from the notoriously tax-adverse Amazon.

But then you factor in that 'Ding Dong...' was written by EY 'Yip' Harburg, whose middle-name referred to the Young People's Socialist League, who wrote 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?' and was blacklisted from Hollywood during the Red Scare, and you think, well, maybe the Universe has a way of balancing this stuff out.

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