Having fun with Hansard

'Have you heard the last track on Viva Hate? It's amazing.'

‘Have you heard the last track on Viva Hate? It’s amazing.’

I was searching the online UK Hansard database this afternoon, looking to see whether anyone had mentioned the television show The Young Ones in parliamentary debates. While this search was unsuccessful, I found some other interesting examples of popular culture infiltrating the hallowed walls of Parliament. I tweeted a lot of these today, but thought I’d compile them here as well.

While there was no mention of The Young Ones, other British comedies were mentioned. Besides obvious ones like Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, more recent ones included Men Behaving Badly and Absolutely Fabulous. In 2002, Lib Dem MP Phil Willis raised the issue of television in a debate on behaviour problems in UK schools. He said:

Let us consider the examples that our young people are given in, for example, popular television series such as “Men Behaving Badly” or even the one with those wonderful ladies, Joanna Lumley and co… [Mr Pound: ‘Absolutely Fabulous’] … There is a relish and glorification in the appalling behaviour depicted in those programmes, but in schools such behaviour is out of order.

Elsewhere, Blackadder was mentioned numerous times, but nearly always in relation to the character of Baldrick and his cunning plans. In fact, Baldrick has been mentioned in both Houses of Parliament 17 times since 1990. For example, in 2003, Labour MP Brian Jenkins said about the Post Office’s closure scheme:

That plan is a very cunning plan—the only very cunning plan that I have seen to match it was Baldrick’s in “Blackadder”.

Besides television comedies, I also searched for references to popular music. Some reflected particular episodes where popular music and wider politics/society intertwined. In 1982, the anarcho-punk band Crass released How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of 1000 Dead? as a single in protest to the Falklands War. Outraged by this, Tory MP Timothy Eggar asked the Attorney-General Michael Havers if he would prosecute Crass Records under the Obscene Publications Act. Havers replied: 

I have considered the record to which my hon. Friend refers and have decided that its publication does not amount to a contravention of section 2.

After The Stone Roses’ infamous Spike Island gig in 1990, Labour MP Graville Janner asked the Home Secretary:

[H]ow many people were injured at the Stone Roses concert at Spike island, Widnes, on 3 June; how many of the injured were treated in hospital; and how many were detained in hospital.

Under-Secretary for the Department of State, Peter Lloyd, answered:

I understand that, in addition to those people (number unknown) who received minimal first aid treatment at the concert itself, two people, who sustained injuries when attempting to get into the event without tickets by climbing over a high fence, were taken to hospital, treated and discharged the same day.

In 1991, the gangsta rap outfit NWA were charged with violating the Obscene Publications Act for the album Niggaz4Life and when the case was won by the group, Tory MP Michael Neubert asked the Home Secretary:

whether, in the light of the judgment in the NWA—Niggers with Attitude—case at Redbridge on 7 November, he will bring forward proposals to amend the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

Representing the Home Office, John Patten replied:

I cannot comment on the decision of a court in a particular case. The Government recognise that there is concern about the effectiveness of the Obscene Publications Act 1959. This is traditionally an area for Private Members and the Government are prepared to support any suitable proposals for amendments which would make the law more effective and which appear likely to command sufficient public and parliamentary support. 

In other instances, parliament debated a music subculture more broadly, usually reflecting the ‘moral panic’ surrounding a particular subculture. A fascinating discussion of punk and the changes in popular music in 1977 can be found in this debate on ‘pop concerts’, with Labour MP and Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Kenneth Marks, stating:

One of the problems with punk rock, as with the groups of the early ‘sixties, is that the whole idea is to be against the Establishment and the adult population. Now that the earlier groups have themselves become a well-paid part of the Establishment, there is a natural revolt against them.

But there is something rather more frightening. My hon. Friend quoted the Sunday People, but it is not only the popular papers which have been giving attention to this problem. The Economistsaid: The fans describe themselves as the ‘blank generation’, ‘hate’ and ‘destroy’ slogans are frequently used, the lyrics of the better groups, such as the Clash, who have dubbed themselves the ‘Sound of the Westway'”— with my former responsibilities for transport, I know what is meant by that— (after a London motorway built literally over the top of working-class housing developments) refer to urban decay, unemployment among the young and life in high-rise blocks. Mr. Mick Jones, of the Clash, once claimed that he had never lived below the 17th floor, though his fellow guitarist Mr. Joe Strummer went to a public school. The Economist says: The new wave is unlikely to produce a new Mozart. But if it causes Mr. Callaghan, Mrs. Thatcher and the rest”— presumably that means the rest of us— to wonder why Britain’s young people go around with safety-pins in their noses it may serve a useful purpose. So that is part of a much larger problem. It applies not only to pop music but to football, and my Department has done a great deal of investigation and work on that.

In 1982, punk found itself again under attack in parliament by Tory MP, Jocelyn Cadbury, who urged criminologists to study the ‘disturbing effects’ of punk on young people. Cadbury declared:

There are many reasons why crime has increased. There is a whole range of cultural factors involved. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) referred to television, and, quite rightly, mention has been made of the press. The press has had a bad effect. I do not know whether any hon. Members listen to the so-called punk rock music. Occasionally, I have tried to decipher some of the words of the songs which come under the heading of punk. It is difficult because the singers usually screech out the lyrics, but when I have been able to understand the message it sometimes seems to propagate an ethos of violence which must have a disturbing effect on the behaviour of young people. Criminologists should study those cultural factors. To some extent, they must influence human behaviour for the worse.

In several debates on glue sniffing in 1984-85, Tory MP Harry Greenway raised the issue on punk rockers indulging in the practice. In May 1984, Greenway alleged:

In a conversation with a distinguished public figure today I learnt that in a reputable store last Saturday he saw a packet of glue sold to a punk rocker aged about 13 or 14 years. When the punk rocker had gone he spoke to the assistant who had sold the glue, who appeared to be a responsible person. He said, “You should not have sold the glue.” The assistant replied, “If she wants to kill herself that way, who am I to stop her?”

In January 1985, Greenway told a similar anecdote:

I went into a well-known shop the other day, and as I was being served a punk rocker came in. He asked for glue and was sold glue. A man standing next to me said to the person who had sold the glue, “You know that glue is going to be abused.” The man behind the counter said, “Yes, I do, but what is it to me if people choose to kill themselves in that way?” That is disgraceful. The Bill will overcome that and I welcome it in that spirit.

In the late 1980s, the ‘moral panic’ over acid house emerged. In 1988, Tory MP, Gillian Shepherd, asked the Home Secretary about ‘the spread of the acid house cult’, to which Douglas Hogg, representing the Home Office, stated:

I assume that my hon. Friend’s particular concern is with misuse of certain drugs—notably MDMA, also known as ecstasy, and LSD—said to be associated with the acid house craze. The Government give the highest priority to tackling drug misuse, and have devised a balanced strategy which aims at reducing both the supply of, and demand for, drugs. Effective law enforcement action is a key element of the strategy, and hon. Members will have noted the operations against acid house parties undertaken by several police forces in the home counties during the weekend of 5 and 6 November.

Throughout 1989 and 1990, the issue of acid house parties and the policing of them was raised continually in parliament, as seen here.

As well as these more political occasions, other musical acts were mentioned in Hansard in more random ways. My favourite example is when Labour MP Tony Banks made fun of Terry Dicks who opposed state funding for the arts and his lack of knowledge of contemporary music:

I am grateful to the hon. Member. His muscular approach to the arts is well known in this House. Does he recall the fact that Spandau Ballet performed at the Royal Festival hall when it was being run by the Greater London council? Unfortunately, he probably also knows that those people put up Spandau Ballet because they thought it was a ballet from Spandau.

I am sure there are many others. But that is most of the good ones that I could find today. If you find any more, please comment below.

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2 comments

  1. Fascinating. I’m doing some research at the moment on an Irish television programme and, similarly, searched parliament debates for any references to it. It seems one of the characters makes a good point of comparison anytime a politician wanted to cast doubt over the intentions of the opposition.

  2. I hadn’t seen this and did my own similar research today ( punk in parliament ) check the bit of the debate before Kenneth Marks speaks..you have 2 MPs arguing over the fore-runners of Punk ! Really surreal …

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