Britain's Political Parties are Choosing Their Election Tunes Right Now
And they have a track record for picking some real treats.
It’s the 2004 Lib Dem conference and well-meaning activists, still under the assumption that their party will never actually be in a position of power, are swaying along in a half-empty hall as Stephen Gately's “New Beginning” blares through the PA.
Political campaign songs are an undoubtedly American phenomenon. It’s hard for us in the UK to really care about them. They feel so 90s, so cheesy, so M People. But to parties, they matter a great deal. In fact they have teams poring over which songs to select; the exact smash hit that will cordially endear the entire country to them with one 3 minute blast.
So how are these election songs selected and what makes a good one? You’d think, with the young adult vote to fight for, the parties would look to their youthful contingent to guide them on setting the right tone with their pop music affiliation? But no, it's usually the party leader's main stooge crew that make the call. This time round, for the Tory soundsystem, it's up to grandmaster chancellor George Osborne, election guru Lynton Crosby and head of communications Craig Oliver. For Labour, the decision will reside with their hottest selectahs: Director of Events Rachel Kinnock, Campaign Director Spencer Livermore and Director of Strategy Greg Beales.
Last year the Labour trio chose Ed Miliband’s conference song to be “Lifted” by Naughty Boy, featuring Emeli Sandé, after rejecting various others political masterpieces including, ”It's Not Over Yet” by the Klaxons, “Wave” by Crystal Fighters and Coldplay’s “Paradise”. Unfortunately, “Lifted” made absolutely no impact, but even no impact is a luckier escape than some of the voter ‘anthems’ we’ve been exposed to in the past.
Here’s a feast of the most acute blunders, songs that are meant to have that ‘let’s get together and fucking do this’ vibe, but instead sound like your parents having one last dance in the living room before they tearily succumb to the inevitability of divorce.
D:REAM - THINGS CAN ONLY GET BETTER
This was the majestic club tune that New Labour commandeered to spread its message in the 1997 election. And it worked pretty damn well. The song, which features a young Professor Brian Cox on keys, captured a moment in history. Peter Cunnah, the band’s lead singer, even joined the future prime minister at rallies; as Blair finished his speech, Cunnah would get up on stage and rouse the audience to a mass singsong. He was even on the Prescott Express, touring the country and performing to halls full of forty-somethings as they faux-raved their faux-tits off. It’s what every band dreams of.
But as with a lot of things related to Tony Blair the song, nevertheless, came back to haunt him. Every time something went wrong the tabloids gleefully declared that “Things can only get bitter”. When I contacted Peter Cunnah to discuss the song’s legacy he refused to comment.
PRIMAL SCREAM - ROCKS
When it comes to choosing tracks, you've got to feel sorry for the Toris. Back in 2013, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke calmly warned that he would "sue the living sh*t" out of David Cameron if any of his songs were used in his election campaign. Then, in 2011, Primal Scream expressed their disgust after their track “Rocks” was wrongly thought to have been played to the Party faithful - the famously leftie Scottish band said they were upset at being associated with the "sick" party.
The Tories later denied the song had ever been used, adding that the person who squealed on them must have mistaken the song for the party-approved Dandy Warhol’s “Bohemian Like You”, making it the most damning review Primal Scream have received during their 10 album career.
JAMES - SIT DOWN
Some songs are so naively chosen, they end up highlighting a politician’s entire career of pitfalls. James’ anthem “Sit Down” was used for Gordon Brown when he took to the podium at the 2008 party conference. By this point the former chancellor was regarded as woefully indecisive after 'the election that never was', so the lyric "Sit down next to me...in sympathy" was a damagingly apt song choice. And just to tip an extra wagon load of salt in Brown’s mortally wounded ego, James' singer Tim Booth branded the weary PM a "desperate politician" that had missed the point of the lyrics.
Last year, ex-Radio 1 DJ Mike Read apologised for "causing offence" when he sang UKIP’s "Calypso" track. The song - which is performed by a 67 year old Lancashire-born, grammar school-educated white man in a cod-Caribbean accent and features lyrics about “open borders” and “illegal immigrants in every town” - was somehow criticised for being ‘racist’.
The YouTube user who originally uploaded the song has since disabled the comments, reasoning with a clear and righteous head: “Sorry for disabling the comments but I got sick and tired of babysitting this video and putting up with bullshit from left wing halfwits.”
PINK - GET THIS PARTY STARTED
You’d think Labour choosing this as Tony Blair’s walk on music in 2005 would be a not-so-clever take on the “word” party, but it did seem a bit of an incongruous choice considering it’s a song about double-dropping ecstasy to liven things up a bit.
MANIC STREET PREACHERS - IF YOU TOLERATE THIS
The poor old BNP have barely been able to hum a tune without getting their prejudiced arses dragged straight to the legal team. First, they were threatened by Dam Vera Lynn for using her classic “White Cliffs of Dover”, and then those pesky Manic Street Preachers flew off the handle when they themed their shabby campaign with “If You Tolerate This”.
Hard to believe, but it seems some artists just aren’t comfortable with any of their work being associated with those trendy folk over at the British National Party. My advice to the BNP is to stop trying out any old song and start thinking outside the box. Head along to a few gigs, buy a few albums at the merch stand and then try to get them signed by the band. When they ask who to sign it to, say “Oswald Mosley, please. All caps!” and if they smirk approvingly, you’re onto a winner.
You can find Tess Reidy on Twitter: @TessReidy