September 2012, Week 3


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Sat, 15 Sep 2012 14:23:02 -0400
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Frank Turner's (A)Political Stance is Part of a Post-
Ideological Culture

Who can blame him? He's a singer-songwriter
who came of age in a time when ideology was
dumped in favour of triangulation

By Billy Bragg
The Guardian (UK)
September 8, 2012


"I thought that if you had an acoustic guitar/Then it
meant that you were a protest singer" sang the
Smiths in 1985. Lots of people seem to have
thought that about Frank Turner until they read
Michael Hann's blogpost highlighting anti-leftist
comments that Turner had made in a 2009

The singer-songwriter responded with a blogpost of
his own, seeking to set the record straight: "Most of
my friends disagree with me, not least Billy Bragg
and Chris T-T. But, being adults, we understand
that intelligent people can disagree about stuff.
Despite occasionally running my mouth . I don't
think people who call themselves socialists are evil,
mad, stupid or deserving of being attacked; I just
see the world differently."

The last time I discussed politics with Turner, we
were sharing a tiny dressing room at a benefit gig for
people with disabilities. I was chiding him for
claiming in an interview that he was not a political
songwriter. I reminded him what happened at his
recent Wembley Arena gig when he played his song
Glory Hallelujah - 12,000 people lifted up their
voices and sang the refrain "Because there never
was no God".

"C'mon," I said, "You've got to admit that's political."
He shook his head vehemently. "No, it's not," he
said, taking a slug on another of my beers. "It's just
me saying what I think". Was he being evasive,
unwilling to engage in political debate for fear of
revealing his rightwing leanings? Or simply refusing
to have his politics defined by the values of a
previous generation?

Although we come from differing backgrounds,
Turner and I began our political journeys from the
same point, self-identifying as anarchists. My
anarchy was inspired not by Bakunin, but by the
Sex Pistols. It was less a political philosophy, more
a late-70s version of postwar youth, first articulated
by Marlon Brando in the 1953 biker movie The Wild
One. When someone asks him what he's rebelling
against, Brando laconically replies "What have you

While it never amounted to much more than a
rhetorical position in drink-fuelled discussions,
thinking of myself as an anarchist absolved me from
voting in the 1979 UK general election, my
argument being that there was no real discernible
difference between Labour and the Tories.

Events quickly exposed my naivety. By the 1983
election, I recognised that the Tories under Margaret
Thatcher were different to Labour, threatening the
things that I took for granted such as the welfare
state, peace in Europe, our diverse society. Yet my
debut album, released that year, expressed politics
that were mostly personal. It took the miners' strike
to open my eyes. After a year of playing benefit gigs
in mining communities up and down the country,
witnessing class war at first hand, I began writing
songs that spoke in the ideological language of the
left. In interviews, I identified myself as a socialist.

Turner, like most musicians of his generation, has
never played on a picket line. Born in 1981, he
spent 2000-2005 in a hardcore punk band called
Million Dead. This period also saw the rise in
popularity of the MP3 music file. For the first time,
peer-to-peer file sharing offered musicians a means
to reach their audience without surrendering control
to the man.

When the major record companies moved to close
down the Napster file sharing site in 2001, many
saw this as an attempt to suppress the freedoms
that they enjoyed on the internet. Anger was
directed not only against corporate conglomerates
and government agencies implementing the crack-
down, but at the whole concept of copyright itself.
Bloggers began to self-identify as libertarians, giving
a political dimension to their anger.

I get the feeling that Turner's politics were defined
by this struggle, that, inspired by the libertarian
language of the blogosphere, he adopted a worldview
that echoes that espoused by Mick Jagger in the

Following his release from drugs charges in 1967,
Jagger was interviewed on TV by William Rees-Mogg,
then editor of the Times. According to his memoirs,
Rees-Mogg, expecting to hear Jagger express the left-
leaning views of the Beatles, was astonished to find
that the leader of the Rolling Stones took an
individualistic libertarian view on ethical and social
issues. Writing years later, Rees-Mogg argued that
Jagger could be described as an early Thatcherite.

Which is not to say that Turner is a follower of the
Iron Lady. Rather, he seems to have come to the
same conclusion that I did in the late 70s, that
there is not much difference between Labour and
the Tories. I think he's wrong, but, having come of
age in a time when ideology was dumped in favour
of triangulation, who can blame him?

His angry denunciation of the left, made in the 2009
Moon & Back Music interview, should be seen in
that light. He made these comments before the
Tories came to power, galvanising a new generation
into anti-cuts activists, and he has quickly issued a
statement making it clear that he is no supporter of
David Cameron. And of course he isn't the first pop
star to slip spectacularly on a banana skin when
making sweeping statements about politics.

Turner has a social conscience, let no one be in any
doubt about that. He will stand in opposition to
anyone he feels is holding people back from
reaching their full potential - witness his support for
the rights of people with disabilities at that benefit
gig last month. What he doesn't have - or even feels
he requires - is an ideological analysis to back up
the ideas expressed in his songs.

Since Labour dropped Clause Four, mainstream
politics in Britain has, for better or worse, become
increasingly post-ideological. Given that sea change,
is it right to expect the new generation, angry at the
unfairness of Cameron's Britain, to express
themselves in the same political language that we
used in the 20th century? Turner and many of his
generation, see the world differently. That doesn't
mean we can't work together to find new ways to
articulate the ideals that we share.


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