In the last few months I’ve been listening to Blur’s 1995 album The Great Escape quite a lot. It’s often overlooked as a socio-political album, but always reminds me of the fall of the previous Conservative government in 1997, holding a number of themes relating to that particular period. I suppose one reason why I’ve listened to it a lot in recent months was the hope of the current Conservative government being kicked out of power. Sadly, this year May was the cruellest month, which has led me to question what led to the Tories success. As often in life, it turns out the answer could be found in Blur’s music.
The gulf between rich and poor is discussed throughout the album. Perhaps the best known song, the chart-topper Country House, tells the tale of a man whose riches cannot aid his quest for happiness. Charmless Man, similarly, deals with the delusion of a privately educated man who cannot see how lowly others perceive him. Mr Robinson’s Quangos, meanwhile, discusses a seemingly well-functioning quangocrat who is suffering from sexual repression. This theme of sexual frustration is also evident on the opening track, Stereotypes, which describes wife-swapping parties in suburbia. The divide between rich and poor is further represented on It Could Be You, suggesting the newly created National Lottery is advertised as making any of us millionaires, but references how Conservative MPs benefitted from it.
Many of the songs describe the loneliness associated with economic success. Ernold Same is the story of a man whose routine is ingrained to the point of boredom. Globe Alone charts the futility of chasing commercialisation. Fade Away charts a couple’s alienation after attaining their desired lifestyles. Closing track Yuko and Hiro further laments work-life balance.
These themes relate well to the decline of the 1990’s Conservative government. Several sex scandals, corruption cases and general sleaze led Tory MPs to be seen as ‘Folk Devils‘, disliked and distrusted by the electorate. Inequality was seen as ‘us’ against the ‘rich bastards’, who might have all the money but lacked wellbeing. Whilst The Great Escape might have been a Britpop album, it reflected in many ways the themes which summed up how I remember mid-90’s politics.
Those themes should, also, characterise contemporary politics, and before the election I assumed they did. But, with hindsight knowing the outcome, it seems the contemporary Folk Devils aren’t the same. The expenses scandal has caused all MPs to become distrusted and seen as favouring personal interests. The financial crisis has led to bankers being seen as the ‘them’, but enjoying luxury lifestyles whilst the masses regress. The popular narratives in the press today aren’t the Tories and stereotypical Tory voters, but rather the super-rich and MPs in general. Given debates around immigration and welfare claimants, it appears it’s the traditional Labour voters who continue to be portrayed as the Folk Devils, potentially being a decisive factor for swing voters. Sadly, we appear to have a society in which the poor are viewed as the cause of social problems – if we’re unable to change that narrative, the consequence could well be continued Conservative election success.