In concluding a fascinating article in The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Street, Hague & Savigny state that music is central to political and social movements as it, and its producers, have the ability to provide a platform from which public action emerges. Basically music has an inspirational quality that draws its audiences together and can create a movement. Reading that I heard on Radio 2 that Peter Garrett was now Minister for Environment, Heritage and Arts in Kevin Rudd's new government in Australia, who, so what?
Peter Garrett was singer with Australian band Midnight Oil, perhaps famous only for the track Beds are Burning outside of Australia, and a political campaigner. The song Beds are Burning talks of the clearances where a scorched earth approach removed Aborigines from large swathes of Australia: the songs message about that land "it belongs to them, lets give it back". He stood for parliament in the 1980s for the Nuclear Disarmament Party and encouraged public demonstrations against the introduction of ID cards, a successful campaign. He has also campaigned on environmental issues and is to be found on Youtube more often for 'green tips' than music videos.
Perhaps him being parachuted into the safe Labor seat of Kingsford Smith was a smart move by the party, perhaps they wanted the credibility that comes with a campaigner such as Garrett. His music is still around and, if the campaigns he promotes on his website is anything to go by, he retains interests in social equality, the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment. However some journalists have attacked him for being a turncoat as he declared he had to be a 'team player' in accepting decisions of the Australian Labour Party caucus; equally he came under fire for telling voters not to vote Green despite his environmental credentials. There was also a hint he had great expectations of Rudd as, when he was criticised for using political marketing and playing on the popular issues (referred to in this case as 'me too' politics as whenever Howard made a promise Rudd said 'me too'), journalist Steve Price quoted Garrett as saying "once we get in we'll just change it all".
And so what you may ask? This case made me think that while celebrities are indeed important in mobilising the public on political issues, just think Geldof, and music may capture a crowd's attention, they may not be right for politics itself. The reason is that they are better campaigners than law-makers and their credibility is always questioned when they cross the divide. Secondly they often seem to be idealistic and passionate about causes, this may make them popular but they raise expectations that cannot be met when constrained by collective decision making. Thirdly they court attention and, not being professional politicians, make remarks that are treated differently if said by a politician than if said by a musician: musicians don't need to be on message or true to anyone but themselves. So while as outsiders they have a potentially powerful role in politics, when inside politics they may become shadows of their former selves mocked for selling out. In Garrett's words from one of my favourites by Midnight Oil: Back on the Borderline:
And sometimes when a thousand voices
Tell you that you're wrong
A saint in any form
Becomes a sinner all along