morrissey

Morrissey Hasn’t Changed – We Have

Morrissey is always going to disappoint those who want him to be some kind of ‘singing Stephen Fry with a quiff’, argues Mark Simpson

 Originally appeared on The Spectator Arts Blog

Because the 80s is the decade that actually ended the 20th Century – the 90s was just an after-party clean-up operation – it’s also the decade that never came to an end itself. In fact, the 80s is the decade that just won’t die.

Economy in (‘Big Bang’) recession. Tories in power. Cuts on the table. Riots on the streets. Royal weddings on the telly. The Falklands becoming a fighting issue. And my mother complaining about Morrissey: ‘I see that chap you like so much has been in the papers again. Ridiculous man! And he still can’t sing!’

As Madonna might put it, it’s all a bit reductive.

In fact everyone has been enjoying moaning about Morrissey lately – just like the good old days. In case you somehow missed it, at a performance in Argentina last week, his band appeared in t-shirts printed with the charming message ‘WE HATE WILLIAM AND KATE’ (remember 80s protest t-shirts?).

Perhaps worried this might be overlooked back home, the former Smiths front-man also offered this bouquet to his Argentine fans about those bitterly contested, sparsely-populated rocks in the South Atlantic: ‘Everybody knows they belong to you’.

The Times, Mirror, Telegraph, Sun and Mail all dutifully denounced Morrissey’s big mouth. The Guardian for its part ran an earnest discussion between two music critics titled: ‘Is Morrissey a national treasure?’ (The answer seemed to be ‘yes – but a very naughty one.’)

Not bad for a 52-year-old crooner currently without a record contract. But then, just like that other 80s diva keen on hairspray and frilly-collared blouses, we’ll never entirely be rid of him.

The British experience of the 80s is forever dominated by two very difficult personalities. Both from the north, both unafraid to speak their mind, and both possessing a gender all of their own.

And while one was a working-class militant vegetarian anarchist Sandie Shaw fan with a flair for homoerotic imagery, and the other a bossy petit bourgeois social Darwinist and devotee of General Pinochet who famously outlawed the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, both of them were radicals on a revenge trip.

But if Margaret Thatcher owned the 80s, Steven Patrick Morrissey stole its youth. Or at least, the youth that didn’t want to be a part of Thatcher’s 80s. The Smiths were not just an‘alternative’ band: they were the alternative that Maggie said didn’t exist.

In fact, The Smiths were reviled by almost everyone at the time – Fleet Street, the BBC (they were effectively banned from daytime Radio 1), the record business (they were signed to a teeny-weeny Indie label), and indeed most of the record buying public (their singles struggled to even get into the top 20).

But they have become the heart of a decade that didn’t have one. They are now the band that everyone liked – two or three decades after the event.

Including, most famously, David Cameron, who used The Smiths and Morrissey as a Tory re-branding and detoxifying tool at least as important as those melting glaciers he went to gawp at. Declaring The Smiths his favourite group not long after gaining the leadership of the ‘Nasty Party’, he was even pictured, if memory serves me right, with a copy of Morrissey’s 2005 album Ringleader of the Tormentors on his desk.

But Morrissey, whatever you may think of him, isn’t a man to be assimilated lightly. Especially by a Chipping Norton Tory.

When, in 2010, his estranged former Smiths collaborator Johnny Marr tweeted that he ‘forbade’ David Cameron from liking the Smiths, animal rights activist Morrissey endorsed him, adding:

‘David Cameron hunts and shoots and kills stags – apparently for pleasure. It was not for such people that either Meat Is Murder or The Queen Is Dead were recorded; in fact, they were made as a reaction against such violence.’

No-one can be genuinely surprised that someone who called an album The Queen is Dead is fiercely anti-Royalist. No-one can be shocked that the man who sang ‘Irish Blood English Heart’ is no fan of the remnants of the British Empire. And let’s not forget his famous 1984 quip: ‘The sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Margaret Thatcher escaped unscathed’, or the track ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ for his 1988 album Viva Hate.

Unless, that is, they hoped that Morrissey had mellowed with age and become some sort of singing Stephen Fry with a quiff. Morrissey’s views haven’t changed. Morrissey hasn’t changed. He still hasn’t grown up. He’s still an adolescent curmudgeon, an otherworldly prophet from Stretford – he’s just older and thicker around the middle, and with a bit more cash to spend. He did, after all, promise us again and again that he wouldn’t change, couldn’t change.

It’s we, his fans, who have changed. If we’re embarrassed by his antics it may be because we’ve finally become the people we used to hate.

Download Mark Simpson’s acclaimed ‘psycho-bio’ Saint Morrissey on Kindle

Put a Ring On It

My old friend the (gay) human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, once loathed by the popular press for his ‘radical extremism’, is the biggest, loudest voice in the UK calling for same sex marriage.

Or was, until he found himself in bed recently with David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister, who stole his thunder somewhat by announcing at the Tory Party Conference this month his support for gay marriage – “Not despite my being a Conservative, but because I’m a Conservative.”

In the UK civil partnerships were introduced in 2004, giving same sex couples who signed up for them effectively the same legal rights – and privileges over single people – as married couples. Civil partnerships have been widely regarded as a success, and while it’s true that many lesbians and gays probably would want the option, unlike in the US there has been no great clamour for same sex marriage – no riots in Soho or MiLK-esque speeches at the BAFTAs.

In fact, the lack of much of a clamour for same-sex marriage (except for perhaps the one coming from Tatchell) is one of the reasons why Cameron was able to so easily co-opt – or ‘out’ – gay marriage as something essentially Conservative/conservative. And in the process complete his swishy remodelling of the Tories as the socially liberal, Nice to Gays, MetroTory Party, rather than The Nasty Party people remember from the 80s, 90s and much of the Noughties. While throwing his Coalition partners the Lib-Dems a boner.

And in an important sense he’s right about gay marriage: Conservatives don’t like new institutions, they like old ones. Really dusty, cobwebby ones that don’t work anymore. Although ageing hang ‘em and flog ‘em Shire Tories whom Holland Park ‘Dave’ clearly despises and who despise him back with interest won’t agree, better that gays line up to get married than go off and do their own civil thing. Especially when no one else is bothering to get married any more.

Unsurprisingly, half-hearted proposals to extend civil partnerships to cross-sex couples have been dropped – the reason cross-sex couples were barred from civil partnerships in the first place was due to fears that this would ‘undermine marriage’. The Tories, remember, want to prop up the lame duck industry of marriage by introducing a state subsidy for it.

But should Cameron succeed in legalising same-sex marriage, Tatchell isn’t going to get gay married himself. Despite his very personal identification with the cause of same sex marriage in the UK for several years, and his use of somewhat melodramatic rhetoric such as ‘sexual apartheid’ and ‘riding at the back of the bus’ to describe civil partnerships, he rejects marriage altogether – on political  grounds. Debating with Suzanne Moore (another old friend of mine) in Saturday’s Guardian in the wake of Cameron’s pledge, he repeated an argument he has made many times before:

‘Personally, I don’t like marriage. I share the feminist critique of its history of sexism and patriarchy. I would not want to get married.’

In other words, he sees marriage as a system of oppression and inequality which he wants nothing to do with. Though of course, this doesn’t mean he can’t crusade selflessly for the right of others to get oppressed:

‘But as a democrat and human rights defender, I support the right of others to marry. This is a simple issue of equality. The ban on same-sex marriage is discrimination and discrimination is wrong, full stop.’

Even without dwelling on the slight contradiction of campaigning for the extension of a system of oppression and inequality under the banner of equality, Tatchell is not presenting much of an argument here. Rather — and I say this as someone who owes Peter a debt of thanks for helping to get my first book published and for providing a cracking essay for my 1996 collection Anti-Gay — it’s a schoolmarmish piece of moralism designed to close down debate: ‘…discrimination is wrong, full stop’. Oh, no! The dreaded full stop! That’s it then. My powers of dialectic have turned to dust!

I’ve heard similar from liberal heteros who like to wear their support for gay marriage as a badge of their liberalism, and are crestfallen when you don’t pat them on the back for it. The poor dears usually end up irritably dismissing queer killjoys like me as ‘perverse’ and ‘eccentric’. Liberal do-gooders know best, even when they’re straight liberal do-gooders talking about gay marriage to gayers.

Thankfully, not all straight liberals think alike — in the Guardian debate Suzanne Moore dares to be the straight party-pooper at the gay marriage reception, airing many of the arguments that lots of LGBT people agree with but tend to keep quiet about in front of the Goyim. Like her, I’m not so much against same-sex marriage (what would be the point of that? Unless you have a kink for chaining yourself to church railings), as just not for it.

But agnosticism about gay marriage isn’t really permitted. After all, gay America, Tatchell, straight liberals and even David Cameron all say we have to be for it. Full stop.

Thing is, if you get with the programme and make equality for its own sake your god you can end up saying really daft things which you clearly don’t believe. Worse, by making it the measure of ‘equality’, you make even more of a fetish out of marriage than the traditionalists.

And someone like Peter Tatchell, who has a long, radical history, who rejects marriage as ‘sexist and patriarchal’, who would like to see civil partnerships made more flexible and extended to cross-sex couples (so would I, but it’s not going to happen under this Government), ends up saying stuff like: ‘marriage is the gold standard.’

Perhaps, despite his denials, Peter really does want to get married after all. Sometimes he sounds like a very old-fashioned girl.

A Nation Turns Its Back and Gags

I shall never be able to play The Smiths again without thinking of Prime Minster David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague sharing a hotel room – and Cameron complaining about Hague’s disappointing endowment.

CleggCam: The ‘Progressive Partnership’ Giving it to You Both Ends

A few months back I wrote a piece for The Times arguing that straight couples should be allowed to have civil partnerships. But now that I’ve seen the UK’s first straight civil partnership ceremony in the Rose Garden of Number 10 Downing Street I’m not so sure.

In the romantic Spring sunshine the groom and the groom declared their ‘progressive partnership’ to the world and explained why they had decided to tie the knot with a full coalition – the first since the Second World War – instead of just having a more casual, living-together ‘confidence and supply’ shag-on-demand thing. “We both looked at each other and thought that it was uninspiring,‘’ said Dave Cameron, while Nick Clegg nodded and smiled serenely.  Something he will probably have to get used to doing a lot of.

Labour supremo Lord Mandelson’s famous warning, ‘Vote for Nick Clegg and you’ll wake up with David Cameron’, proved only half true. He should have told us: ‘Vote for Clegg and you’ll wake up with Cameron and Clegg giving it to you both ends, no lube and definitely no poppers’. Two super posh, privileged trust-fund kids preaching from lecterns about the sacrifices the rest of us are going to have to make while they shack up in Downing Street every so kindly providing us with the ‘strong and stable government’ that they were so clearly born to deliver.

Although clips from the Leader’s Debates are being played now to contrast the bitter antipathy of the Lib Dem leader and the Tory leader just a week or so ago with their smug love-in now, it was very apparent back then, even as they rowed, that these two had much more in common with one another than with 99% of their audience.  It was less X Factor than Blind Date.

Some say that Cameron hasn’t any real interest in Clegg and is just using his, er, mandate, but I think that’s a little unfair. Cameron is very interested indeed in Clegg and will hug and hold him closer than his favourite pajama case. After all, Clegg was fashioned largely as a Lib Dem knock-off of Cameron (and Cameron of course was a Tory knock-off of Labour posh boy Tony Blair). Cameron really does love Clegg — because it’s like looking in the mirror.  And because Clegg is the Tory wet that Cameron wants you to mistake him for.

They make a lovely, cloney-sloaney celeb couple, CleggCam, and they’re now living at the top address in the country.  Their mothers must be so proud.  But my cynical eye can’t help but alight on certain details that don’t augur quite so well for their ‘progressive partnership’. Such as the scary way that Cameron sprang out of No.10 to greet Clegg this morning like a smiley but very hungry trapdoor spider, quickly dragging Clegg into the bowels of Downing Street.

Yes, it was cute the way that they both tried to place their hand on each other’s back, to broadcast to the world they were both ‘versatile’ – but as the big, heavy door to No.10 began to close, it was Cameron’s hand ever-so gallantly, but ever-so firmly in the small of Clegg’s back, pushing him forwards into their ‘new politics’. And probably, after the door slammed shut, over.


BRITAIN ELECTION DEBATES

Dave’s Posh Skin, Nick’s Cute Hair, and Gordon’s Bleached Rictus

by Mark Simpson

It’s difficult not to feel a little sorry for Gordon Brown. Even if you really don’t want to.

I mean, imagine spending over a decade trying to wrest the leadership of the Labour Party – and the UK – from that insufferably posh boy Tony Blair and when you finally succeed the global economy goes down the toilet.  Worse – much, much worse – you find yourself at election time appearing on The X Factor faced by not one but two all-singing, all-dancing Baby Blairs. Even posher and prettier than he was.

If the instant polls after last nights final leaders’ debate on TV are to be believed, Cameron and Clegg are in first and second place respectively, with Brown trailing in third, but with only a few points between them.  A Tory/Lib-Dem alliance seems likely, with Labour heading to a historic defeat. You the audience seem to have decided that you want to see the super-posh boys from Eton and Westminster get into bed together.

Or perhaps you just decided you don’t want to see Brown any more.

I won’t bother rehashing what was said. Instead I’ll talk about what really mattered: How they looked on my 42 inch LCD TV.  Here are my notes, written in my best Simon Cowell:

General appearance

Cameron has round doll-like eyes, a round doll-like face, and a small doll-like mouth. In fact, he’s a nicely painted Edwardian doll that looks, despite his apparently affable personality, a tad sinister – as if it might be hiding one of those jack-hammer jaws in Alien. This is particularly apparent when one of the other’s is saying something Cameron, watching them out of the corner of his narrowed eyes, doesn’t like.

Clegg looks like the head boy everyone likes. I can’t bear him.  I want him to be caught dealing drugs.

Brown looks like death on toast.

Skin

Clegg and Cameron both have a high, creamy skin colouring which is incredibly posh in that strawberry blond sort of way. It positively glows privilege. Good genes, good diet and the kind of really restorative sleep that only serious trust funds bring. Cameron’s skin is a little too buffed and hydrated – his chin looks alarmingly shiny. Perhaps though it makes it easier for him to penetrate people’s rib-cages and tear out their vital organs.

Brown doesn’t have skin of course. Brown has pallor and gloom knitted and stretched around his skull – with handy, capacious pockets under the eyes for all his regrets.

Teeth

Cameron’s teeth are surprisingly snaggly. Perhaps though if you’re really posh you don’t need to have perfect teeth – and Cameron’s small mouth is quite good at hiding them. Clegg’s teeth are better, but there is a distracting stain at the front of his lower set of gnashers. Clearly British dentistry has some way to go to properly catch up with American Presidential politics.

As for Brown’s: I can’t remember. I don’t want to remember. His lower jaw has a disconcerting habit of moving under its own volition, apparently unconnected to his head. Everyone of course has made fun of his bleached rictus smile so I won’t.

Hair

Dame Cameron’s hair is a helmet of streamlined terror. So strongly fixed in place it pulls his face backwards like someone experiencing G force.

Clegg’s cute hair makes you want to reach out and ruffle it. And I think that’s the intended effect. My eye keeps being drawn to a tiny lick in the middle of his fringe that has been oh-so-carefully teased forwards like a comma. Like an embryonic kiss-curl. What did it mean? What was it for? A visual reminder that Clegg was in the centre of politics? A trick to break up his Tefal forehead on our widescreen TVs? Or is this part of the carefully contrived hands-in-pockets casualness of  Cleggy? (I suspect the latter.)

Brown’s hair looked like a tabby cat that had been through the boil-wash-dry cycle on Gillian Duffy’s washing machine. Twice.

Ears

Cameron’s ears are even more streamlined than his hair. They’re not so much flush to his skull as internal. Clegg’s stick out the right amount and aren’t too big.  Prep school ears. Neither of them appear to be troubled by anything so vulgar as earlobes.

Brown on the other hand has earlobes that appear to run all the way around the outside of his ears. Ears so vast and parabolic they should really be part of the SETI project.

Clothes

Cameron wears a suit so well-made, so expensive and so New Tory that it sucks in all the light from around him. Making his chin even shinier. His shirt is simply divine. You can almost smell the Irish linen dampening slightly against his polished, scented, pampered and privileged body.

Clegg’s suit is nice too, but is ostentatiously less expensive than Cameron’s. And a shirt that doesn’t quite fit his neck. But again, this is probably part of Clegg’s attempt to portray himself as a grammar school boy, rather than a Westminster old boy who actually has much more in common with Dame Cameron than with 99% of the viewers.

Brown meanwhile wore his undertaker outfit that he’d slept in the night before.  On Gillian Duffy’s front-room floor.

The Tories’ New Section 28

by Mark Simpson (Guardian CIF, 25 March 2010)

Whatever happened to the Tory party of the 1980s that refused to use taxpayers’ money to prop up failing industries making things people didn’t want? That told us sternly, usually in a helmet of hair-lacquer, “the market must decide”?

It turns out the Tories aren’t so laissez-faire if the market makes a decision they don’t approve of – particularly when punters turn their backs on one of their most cherished institutions. With fewer people getting married now than at any time since records began in 1862, the Tories – who despite what they say about free markets, always seem to know best how people should live their lives – have decided to effectively take this failed enterprise into public ownership.

This weekend a former Tory MP from the 1980s, who considers himself culturally progressive, came out in support of David Cameron’s promised tax breaks for married couples. “From this day forward, reward married couples” announced Matthew Parris in the Times. He failed, however, to explain why married couples should be “rewarded” – as well as given wedding presents. But then DavidCameron hasn’t explained that one either.

But the article’s standfirst succinctly summarised both Parris’ and the Tory position, and made it clear why an explanation isn’t necessary: “Everyone except a sour minority knows that marriage is good for society”. Marriage is good for society because it is a “good thing” in and of itself – as such it doesn’t need to be demonstrated, even at a time when marriage is less popular than ever. Marriage is, for most Tories, an article of faith. And anyone who disagrees with this position or even questions it is obviously sour or leftwing, which amounts to much the same thing.

What made Parris’ support of this tax on unmarried people (for that is of course what it translates into) novel was his interesting claim to speak on behalf of the vast majority of gay people: “an astonishingly conservative section of society”, commending their “traditionalism”, warning the (presumed heterosexual and conservative) reader who begs to differ they’ve been paying too much attention to a “sour slim minority”, and asserting gays’ overwhelming endorsement of the proposed subsidy for married couples. Parris even went a step further than Cameron and called for civil partnerships to be excluded from the “reward” – perhaps because being famously gay himself, Parris can’t be easily accused of homophobia.

Now, maybe I’m just a sour lefty minority homo of exactly the kind that Parris warns you against, but at least I know better than to presume to speak on gay men’s behalf – especially when it comes to counting yourself out of tax breaks. But since Parris has raised the matter of sexuality, I feel obliged, like the bad fairy at the wedding, to point out where this policy is coming from: essentially the same bit of the Nasty Party that brought you Section 28 in the 1980s, with its jihad on “pretended family relationships”, though it is now much more closeted.

Section 28, you may remember, is the same anti-gay law that the main champion of the Tory marriage subsidy, the Catholic convert Iain Duncan Smith, wanted to reinstate in 2002 when he was Tory leader. This piece of legislation grew directly out of Tory and tabloid fears that marriage was being undermined by acceptance of homosexuality. Section 28 was essentially a nannyish backlash against the scandalous notion that schools might tell young people they have choices about who and how they were going to love.

Now that “pretended family relationships” – straight and gay and everything in between – are probably in the majority and Section 28 is a discredited, embarrassing memory, Holy Family Tories such as IDS have to adopt a different, “nicer” approach – one that seems more carrot than stick, more utilitarian and less homophobic. But don’t doubt for a minute that one of the biggest attractions of what we should probably call “Section 29” for the IDS tendency is that tax breaks for married/decent people is a satisfying way of sticking it to unmarried/indecent people.

Tories, particular the older ones who make up the majority of the party’s aging membership and who give IDS his power base, have never really reconciled themselves to the massive cultural changes that happened post-1960s – and which were much accelerated by their market and consumer reforms in the 1980s. For all her “Victorian values”, Broken Britain was broken in large part by Thatcher. I doubt that Cameron believes for a minute that his Terry and June subsidy will turn back the clock and make marriage or Austin Allegros fashionable again, and he probably doesn’t really want to anyway, but it’s nice that he’s figured out a way to buy off the IDS tendency that so distrusts him and what they see as his cultural liberalism – with taxpayers’ money.

I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Parris though. It can’t have been easy being a gay Tory MP in the 1980s – at least if you had, as I’m sure he has, a conscience. But it seems that all his futile attempts to convince his Cro-Magnon colleagues back then that most gays are natural Tories and worshippers of the Holy Family despite their penchant for buggery has taken its toll. He now believes his own rhetoric.

Marriage: David Cameron’s Lame Duck Industry

From The London Times

David Cameron has propelled marriage to the centre of the election campaign after surprising the Tory party faithful with a promise to spell out his flagship policy before polling day.

Rallying the troops after a narrowing of the poll lead, the Conservative leader said that he would announce details of tax breaks for married couples in the manifesto.

Whatever happened to the days when the Tories were the party that refused to use taxpayer’s money to prop up failing, outdated industries making things that people didn’t want?  That told us sternly that ‘the market must decide’.  Well, it turns out the Tories aren’t happy with what the market has decided in this instance, and instead want to effectiviely nationalise marriage – to take it into public ownership.  British Layland.

Obviously this isn’t going to do marriage much good.  Aside from celeb photo opps and immigration fiddles it was already hideously out of fashion.  But the Tories want to turn it into an Austin Allegro.

It’s nice that Dave has figured out a way to buy off the Ian Duncan Smith/Terry & June tendency of his party – with your tax money – but I wonder if he’s thought it through.  Will he be handing out tax breaks to civil partnerships as well?  If he does the IDS tendency won’t be very happy about subsidised sodomy.  If he doesn’t then, well, his enthusiastic support for Section 28 will come back to haunt him.

Of course, he could save everyone a lot of time and trouble if he just gave the tax bonus money directly to the divorce lawyers.