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Your new favourite band

David Cunliffe - Joy Division

By Jessica Williams, RadioLIVE Political Editor   

Steve Jobs, may he rest in iPeace, has a lot to answer for. Once upon a time, political candidates didn’t feel the need to expose the inner reaches of their souls by exposing their music tastes. Nowadays, no artist is safe from the dubious honour of being name-dropped. Remember George W Bush’s fondness for country music – and the 70s paean to teenage girls, My Sharona? David Cameron claiming his was filled with Radiohead, Blur and the Smiths? The legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr exploded at the news, telling Mr Cameron to stop saying he liked their music: “No you don’t. I forbid you to like it”.

And now, of course, we have the Labour leadership hopefuls telling us their favourite bands, in a response to a question from Young Labour.

What does a politician’s favourite band really tell us about them? Well, that’s simple: Nothing. And yet everything. Responses to these questions don’t come off the cuff. They’re carefully thought through, with as much care as any of them might have taken when chatting up the arty cutie in their English class at school. Will this hit the right note? Will it be cool enough – but not so cool you risk the object of your affections thinking you pretentious?

Translate this teenage yearning then to the beltway: The need for three middle-aged men to earn cred points with Labour voters - both the ones voting in this contest and the ones voting in the bigger deal next year. What does your favourite band say about you? What should it say? Are their politics right-on enough? And does their back catalogue contain the possibility for obvious jokes?

Shane Jones favours Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. This is a solid choice. Bruce sings songs of the working class. He’s about as masculine as it’s possible to be without drowning in Old Spice. He’s a wearer of leather jackets, a proud patriot, an unashamed progressive. A man of the people, but a MAN’s man of the people.

Grant Robertson says his favourite band is The National, but he likes to call them The Labour. Jokes aside, however, another sound choice for a man who wants to portray himself as modern, hip, the future. The National is an American indie band whose music is pretty, thoughtful and unthreatening. The lead singer Matt Berninger does sport some Cunliffe-esque facial hair though. That might need some work.

But it was David Cunliffe whose choice intrigued the most. He chose Joy Division. I’m prepared to bet a few of the Young Labour types haven’t even heard of them. A quick primer, then: Late 70s Mancunians, miserable, made anthemic sad music, lead singer killed himself and the remaining band members went on to form New Order.

Cue general disbelief on Twitter. There were jokes about how the band’s biggest success, Love Will Tear Us Apart, was the perfect metaphor for the Labour caucus. Suggestions that maybe Mr Cunliffe’s epic poem "I Am Harvard" was originally titled I Am Salford. (Okay, that last one was me).

I felt that RadioLIVE’s listeners deserved a full explanation and, also - let’s face it - I was extremely curious. So I texted Mr Cunliffe to ask him. His explanation:

"JD was just getting known when I was on a scholarship in the UK in 1980-82. My friends and I thought the new Manchester wave was cutting edge. And so it seems it was. I still find the music haunting – ethereal base line melodies and all the anguish of teenage years!"

So, who knows? In the hours Mr Cunliffe spends in planes, trains and corporate cabs, maybe he does lose himself in nostalgia for those years in Thatcher's Britain. Maybe Mr Jones stands in front of his mirror, punching the sky and playing air guitar with The Boss. And maybe Mr Robertson does yearn to spend more time at Fidels on Cuba Street, setting the world to rights in a way you can't imagine the Labour caucus ever doing.

But in the end, it's as I said. This tells us nothing and yet everything. Just in the same way the "gentlemen's agreement" to keep families out of the leadership campaign does. It tells us nothing about who these people really are, these three men who may one day be in charge of our country. And yet it tells us everything about modern politics and what the parties, the media and the system think we want to know about them.

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