HERE’S a curious footnote to the Thatcher coverage this past week: she liked the Tornados, Brotherhood of Man and Cliff Richard.
I know this because she was once interviewed for Smash Hits. If you missed this minor classic of 1980s pop journalism, you can probably imagine how strange it was. A glossy mag known for asking pop stars questions like “have you ever grown parsnips in a gumboot?” meets a cold-eyed political headmistress with no obvious sense of humour.
Thatcher was an alien in Smash Hits’ world, and vice versa. She made no attempt to pretend she knew about 1980s pop culture, and clearly regarded the exercise as an opportunity to indoctrinate teenagers rather than ingratiate herself with them. When she said she liked Brotherhood of Man, you believed her. Why would she make that up?
Our current Prime Minister says he likes the Smiths. It’s tempting to say this demonstrates a difference between Thatcher and Cameron’s leadership. Her musical taste was irrelevant because you loved or hated her based on her convictions. Cameron is the product of spin-doctors and celebrity culture, every opinion he expresses, even musical ones, calculated according to how it might play with certain voters.
Except that Cameron, given his age, probably does like the Smiths. The problem is rather that politicians – as I like to think Thatcher understood better than her successors – can’t win when talking about popular culture. Britpop, it is generally agreed, died the day Tony Blair invited Noel Gallagher to 10 Downing Street. Gordon Brown endured a minor PR disaster after he claimed he liked Arctic Monkeys.
I suspect this hostility is not just down to cynicism about spin (or, in the Smiths’ case, obviously different political ideologies); it is also a reluctance to accept that politicians are largely just like the rest of us, that we all can, in our own ways, be as vain, shallow, power-hungry, calculating and inconsistent as they are.
As the years have passed and we’ve discovered more and more about politicians’ private thoughts – from their musical tastes to their sordid affairs – it mostly seems to make us dislike them more. Perhaps the thought that people like us are in charge of something so important is just too terrifying.
This may be partly why Thatcher reassured so many people. As much as I hated her policies, I still found myself weirdly comforted by the fact she liked Cliff Richard. If she’d said she liked New Order I would have thought that 1. she was a liar or 2. she was too busy keeping up with pop music to do her job properly.