Friday, 25 March 2016
Oliver: Billy Bragg - Between the Wars [Peel Session] (18 January 1992)
I kept this selection back, mainly because I wanted to tortuously link it to the notion of a week being a long time in politics. I'm writing this at 2pm on Good Friday. A week ago, at this time, Facebook feeds everywhere were being clogged up with Memes of Tory MPs who had claimed thousands of pounds of expenses or who wanted to award themselves pay-rises, but who had also voted to reduce levels of ESA payments to disabled people found unfit to work. All this on top of a Budget which would fund tax cuts by making 4.4 billion pounds worth of savings to Personal Independent Payments to the disabled. The mood in the country and in the media was as dark and rage-filled as I have ever known it. Just where would this end? Worst of all was the feeling of utter hopelessness that it engendered. Tory MPs (with a few exceptions) trooped into the lobbies to vote these cruel policies through. Large numbers of opposition MPs sat on their hands and did nothing to oppose it. The Lords had been outfoxed when trying to quash the ESA cuts by the lower house making the cuts a financial matter and taking out of the Lords' jurisdiction - no way were the Government going to be humiliated by the unelected house again after working tax credits debacle. It needed a miracle or an attack of conscience by someone in power to give any hope that this cuntitude could be tripped up...and then the trip came, and from the most unlikely source. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, the man who had piloted and nurtured many of the confidential reforms to welfare over the last 6 years resigned in protest at the fact that the cuts now were seen as a matter of ideological mania and a concerted attack on the working poor who don't vote Tory. His resignation letter was damning and it has blown the lid off relationships within the Government, with MPs breaking ranks to denounce the policies and sparking off bitter in-fighting within the Conservative Party, which is always nice to see. The cuts were subsequently removed from the Budget and a rethink has been promised. Whether it leads to anything in the long-term remains to be seen, but it's a first tangible sign that the struggle need not be a hopeless one.
I like the idea that IDS chafed at the strategy of the Budget and finally decided to act after somehow hearing Billy Bragg's Between the Wars, one of the keynote tracks of mid-80s politicised songwriting. It says everything for the collective trauma of recent years that one can look back 30 odd years to the days when the Tories contented themselves with destroying industries and unions as their battle against the "working poor" and find yourself reflecting that things were better then. Architecture writer, Owen Hatherly, in The Quietus makes some very good points about how Between the Wars is arguably more relevant today than it was in 1985, because a greater number of people now have been directly affected by the themes of the song than was the case back then.
This recording isn't from the Peel Session, which Mark Radcliffe produced in September 1984, but we do get Bragg singing the song live at the Top of the Pops studio in its Club Tropicana-era setting. Curiously, Peel wasn't presenting that night, so instead we get Steve Wright doing "sincere".
Video courtesy of Doug Tilley.