Playing Politics: Why don’t Musicians Win Elections?

November closed with the news that the musician Youssou N’Dour would putting his musical career on hold to run for office in Senegal. Which got us to thinking, has there been precedent for musicians moving into politics successfully?
.
Those figures that come immediately to mind, don’t paint a hopeful picture. Bono, Sting, and Geldof, whilst wielding a loud megaphone, tend to get embroiled in arguments of hypocrisy, or otherwise accused of taking too simplistic an approach to what are wildly complex situations. This Newsnight report on Sting’s involvement in the Amazon rainforests stands as testament to the criticisms.
.
It’s only fair to point out that politicians moving into music are equally unwelcome. Blair’s rock band is nothing short of cringeworthy, and we’ve already looked at the bizarre news of Berlusconi’s recent album release of love songs.
.
And we can look beyond the politically active, and those that actually tried to become politicians. Blur drummer, Dave Rowntree, has stood as a Labour MP candidate three times in the last decade, losing each election – in one case embarrassingly losing a supposedly ‘safe seat’ to the Tories.
.
Then there’s Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys, who in 1979 launched a campaign to become Mayor of San Francisco, mocking other candidates hollow PR stunts; when fellow candidate Diane Feinstien swept streets in the city, Biafra hoovered leaves off Feinsteins lawn.  Its fair to say that this wasn’t the most serious of campaigns, and this is reflected in the results – he received only 3% of the vote. However, despite a committed campaign, Jello’s attempt to become president of the Green Party received only 10 votes, his opponent – 295.
.
So what is at the heart of this difficulty? After all, politics and music have always been bedfellows, protest songs have been around as long as there’s been disgruntled workers. As the ability to transmit music has grown, so, in time, have the political targets. By the 60s you had bands like Country Joe and the Fish openly attacking figures like Nixon in their lyrics. And recently we’ve written about Khaled M and his involvement with Libyan revolution through Hip-Hop.
.
It comes down to a question of credibility. See, voters (and we include ourselves in this) are cynical and prejudiced. We have a fairly concrete view of what a politician is and what a musician is, the two don’t mix. We don’t view an entertainer as a viable candidate to run the country, mainly, this is because we don’t often get a view of politicians behind closed doors, their PR managers are on top of them night and day to make sure that they don’t appear too human. They’re meant to be people, but not like us, something less flawed than us. I mean, can you picture Cameron going to the cinema, telling jokes, or eating breakfast in his boxers?
.
Whereas musicians are, well not exactly the opposite, the best way to put it is that the political persona is the ego, the self-controlling focussed character, and the musician’s persona is the id, baser nature, all passion. When it comes to voting can we really accept the idea of a drug-addled boozer, the id, in control of our country?
.
Of course, we often don’t find out that our politicians are drug-addled boozers – in the same proportions as our rock stars – till they actually leave office, and even then it doesn’t stay in the news too long because once they leave office their history, the stories of the musicians come out throughout their career.
.
Then there is the question of experience. A popular reaction to a musician trying to enter politics is “What, beyond the music industry, could this guy possibly know?” It’s fine to hold an uninformed opinion, even to loudly declare it, but that’s very different from making nationwide decisions that are backed by that opinion.
.
Many of the musicians who speak loudest seem to know least, or, although they have a handle on the situation, can only express the wrongness of it. They don’t approach it with a complete plan for change.
.
But how can they? Economists train their entire lives to tackle the problems in the economy, we shouldn’t expect everyone in power to have that level of knowledge.
.
And that is the crux of it, it isn’t that a musician isn’t fit for office it is that we don’t vote for them. We forget that our politicians often don’t have economics degrees, a handle on the NHS, or an understanding of the education system. Every cabinet reshuffle someone is put in charge of an aspect of the country they have no knowledge of. After the last election Labour MP Ed Balls went from being the Education minister to becoming the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, where’s the link?
.
We need to remember that politicians are delegators, they lead teams of civil servants and must decide who amongst them has the best idea. They don’t come up with the ideas, they manage the people that do. A politician sets the tone of his department, a good politician avoids discord and creates harmony between his decisions and the desires of the people he represents. A politician plays within the ensemble of his party.
.
To me, it sounds like a musician could be perfect for to role.
.
Youssou N’Dour is incredibly popular and respected for not only his music but his stance on impotant issues, he’s grown up in Senegal, runs a radio network, and has often spoken out against the President. So he knows his country, he knows how to run a business, and he knows the people of Senegal. Realistically, he is a viable candidate – but will this translate into votes? Only time will tell, stay tuned.
Advertisements

One thought on “Playing Politics: Why don’t Musicians Win Elections?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s