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Orchestral manoeuvres in the dark arts of politics

Which bittersweet symphonies best sum up Britain’s political parties?

Image: The New European

In an interview given to Classic FM, Sir Keir Starmer declared that the piece of music he most associates with the Labour Party is the fourth movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, generally known as Ode To Joy (as every member of the shadow cabinet now knows, it’s a musical setting of Friedrich Schiller’s poem of the same title). Sir K praised the piece’s uplifting message, saying it had a “sense of destiny and is hugely optimistic… it’s that sense of moving forward to a better place”.

I don’t think even the most optimistic ex-Corbynista would have been holding out for Sir K to nominate The Internationale or indeed The Red Flag (for all that that’s SUPPOSED to be the Labour Party anthem), although given that it’s nearly December he could have snuck the latter out under its alternate identity as O Tannenbaum

Still, the choice of LVB’s OTJ (as nobody has EVER called it) has not gone unremarked upon, given the many usages and connotations it has picked up over the centuries. It was the defiant clarion call of choice of the Tiananmen Square protesters back in 1989, it was among Alex’s favourite accompaniments to acts of ultraviolence in A Clockwork Orange, and, most awkwardly (or perhaps most encouragingly for readers of this paper), it has been the official anthem of the European Union and its previous incarnations since 1972…

In any event, it’s a bracingly upbeat piece, reflecting Labour’s enticing electoral prospects in the new year, although for reference’s sake my OWN favourite Beethoven “jam” is the allegretto from the seventh symphony (ie “The bit that’s in Zardoz”).

So, what other classical/orchestral pieces would best sum up the other political parties?

As I mentioned last week, back in 1992 the Tories actually HAD a bit of classical (well, technically Baroque) music as their theme, when they commissioned Andrew Lloyd Webber to come up with something and what he came up with was an old Henry Purcell tune.

If we were just looking for a personal motif for Rishi Sunak himself, a fairly obvious candidate would be Franz Lehár’s Gold & Silver Waltz (or indeed Money Makes the World Go Around from Cabaret) but for the present iteration of the Conservative Party I’d have to nominate The Imperial March from John Williams’s score for The Empire Strikes Back. It really is the most thrillingly fascistic piece of music ever composed, and since it was written 35 years too late for the ACTUAL Nazis to get any benefit out of it, it’s time someone put it to good jack-booted use. It’s an excellent soundtrack to our wretched administration’s willing submission to the Dark Side as it chooses the path of intolerance, division and just general nastiness. My only misgiving is the feeling of steely, ruthless efficiency the “Darth Vader theme” conveys. Ruthless perhaps, but there’s nothing steely or efficient about this lot. They’d accidentally blow up their OWN Death Star.

The LDs are playing it so close to the chest at the moment, desperately trying to be innocuous even by their own standards, that John Cage’s 4’33” might be considered an appropriate anthem. Or perhaps Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major; soothing, gentle and going round and round in circles without ever getting anywhere.

But let’s face it, their unofficial theme has always been and will always be Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle. All together, Lib Dems: “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…”

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony seems an obvious choice, or maybe Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze (unless the Greens are against intensive farming of any kind these days).

The SNP could perhaps clear up the vexed question of “Does Scotland have a national anthem?” (technically, no, it doesn’t) by officially adopting one of the various pretenders to the throne.

The most popular candidate is probably Flower of Scotland, which like many ancient Scottish folk ballads was written in the mid-1960s by The Corries. Awkwardly, the irresistibly singalong chorus includes a flat 7th (the word “think” in the line “And sent them homeward tae think again”), which makes the song impossible to play properly on the bagpipes, although the Princes Street pipe-buskers will insist on trying (it sounds dreadful). If this is to become the first anthem of an independent Scotland, I’m going to invent a custom chanter (the little oboe-esque bit of the pipes that plays the melody) so it can finally be played on the national instrument.

Or they could just go with (I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles (Away From Westminster). Much simpler.

The political wing of GammonBall News can keep their scabby mitts off Rule Britannia; they’d be welcome to The Dam Busters March (weirdly appropriate given that the hero of that movie had named his dog the n-word) but given how many sleepless nights their promise to run candidates in every seat at the next election will be causing the Tories they might as well go with Nessun Dorma

Because they’re going to schism off at any minute, and when they do, their anthem will be Handel’s Messiah for reasons I do not need to explain.

Argentina’s elected a president
Javier Milei is their boy
With the hair of a ’70s porn star
Like a climate-denying Lovejoy

His rise has been so meteoric
That we can only suppose
Argentina took one look at Boris and Trump
And thought “Where can we get one of those?”

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