When compared with a stage invader, an unrelenting cough and a letter F with less staying power than David Davis, Theresa May probably isnât that bothered about Florence + the Machine being cross with her conference speech.
But cross she is â Florence Welch tweeted that the Toriesâ use of You Got the Love âwas not approved by us nor would it have been had they askedâ. She was joined by onetime collaborator Calvin Harris, whose track with Rihanna, This Is What You Came For, was used for Mayâs walk-on music. He wrote on Twitter: âI do not support nor condone happy songs being played at such a sad event … Also cough plus grey complexion suggests liver cleanse needed â blood prob very dark â body trying to cleanse but lack of nutrients pls google.â Given Harris once looked like a white pudding squeezed behind some novelty sunglasses and is now an Armani underwear model, May should probably take heed.
Anyway, theyâre actually quite appropriate song choices, though not for the right reasons. One lyric in This Is What You Came For â âLightning strikes every time she movesâ â perfectly reflects Mayâs galumphing inability to leave Downing Street without further alienating herself from the electorate, while another â âEverybodyâs watching her, but sheâs looking at youâ â neatly sums up how her Corbyn/Boris fixation, at the expense of inspirational rhetoric, perhaps undermines the Conservativesâ voting base. âWe say nothing more than we needâ, finally, is surely a Tory backroom mantra.
May, meanwhile, tries to turn Youâve Got the Love, secularised by Welch from Candi Statonâs gospel original, back into an anthem of faith. It could be a cosy affirmation of the Tory congregation, May telling them, âyou got the love I need to see me throughâ, but perhaps itâs the reverse, as May casts herself as a Tory deity who will see her supporters through.
Maybe some Steve Hilton-style Tory strategist, putting the blue in blue sky thinking, has deeply pondered the song choices, but probably not. Itâs likely This Is What You Came For was chosen for its title alone, but, while Rihanna makes the line an affirmation of her sexual power, that probably wasnât how May was advised to play it. Instead, itâs merely an intimidating reminder to the audience of why they are there: to see and support May.
This skewing of songcraft â and the subsequent opprobrium of songwriters â is a classic Tory conference meme. Fleetwood Macâs Donât Stop is a song about determination in the face of marital dischord; David Cameron turned it into a song about determination in the face of Ukip. Cameron was also fond of the Killersâ All These Things That Iâve Done, whose central lyric â âYou gotta help me outâ â was twisted into a mantra for the Big Society, a trick repeated with Bryan Ferryâs Letâs Stick Together.
Cameron also used Keaneâs Everybodyâs Changing, another song chosen for the title alone, ignoring the lyrics about alienation and simmering psychological strife â though âI try to stay awake and remember my nameâ is probably how most conference-goers are feeling by day three.
Keane said they were âhorrifiedâ their music was played, and in 2011, Primal Scream said they were âtotally disgustedâ with the Tories after they apparently played Rocks, a song that celebrates cheap sex and drug use â perhaps the conference is more bacchanalian than we imagine â but it turned out not to have been aired after all. Instead they had played the Dandy Warholsâ Bohemian Like You as Theresa Mayâs exit music, a song in which a complete arsehole makes a series of empty promises, avoids commitment, and expects everyone to be cool about it. After finding out, Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor bemoaned ârightwing jerkoff politicsâ, adding: âRightwing people arenât creative, visionary or any fun to be around.â
The Tories would be wise not to pick songs for their titles alone, but rather those that truly speak to their values â or preferably both, as when New Labour managed to crystallise their promise to the country in the form of D:Reamâs Things Can Only Get Better. That songâs success showed that music is a small but significant political battleground, and one that Jeremy Corbyn is currently dominating.
Some might cringe at his support for Stormzy at the GQ awards or his quoting of the âmanâs not hotâ UK rap meme, but his avuncular charm means these stunts mostly add to his millennial appeal. The Tories, meanwhile, use music in only the most shallow, literal-minded way â one that announces culture is mere window-dressing, rather than something at the heart of the nation.