For the all the times musicians have come out to slander the politician who dared to use their tunes for political ends, you’d think the establishment would have understood the pitfalls of using cultural shorthand. With the Labour even getting a drubbing for having the temerity to play The Horror’s I See You, not symbolically but just as muzak, shows that the politician dressing in the raiment of cultural referents still does so at their peril. Not that such risk worried George Osborne, when at this year’s Tory Party conference he took the moment at hand to close his speech on a rousing cry taken straight from the pages of Trainspotting.
The ‘Choose Speech’ took on a much grander life with the 1996 film, and Renton’s immortal words found their way onto a stylized poster which seemed to win fans with disaffected students across the country. They could get onboard with the speech’s anti-establishment ethos, without having to get grubby with the realities of either heroin addiction or being Scottish.
So what then of Osborne adapting the form to drill home why the Tories are the natural choice for the discerning voter? An easy assumption might be that a politician without a slogan can always fall back on a crowd favourite, but however you cut the Tory demographic I think you’d be hard pushed to find any block support for the film in their ranks.
Suspicion edges towards this being a cynical echo, a knowing tip of the hat to an openly un-Tory film with a reference that might fly over the head of most, but would at least get the chattering classes twittering and blogging [why hello!] about it all. That Irvine Welsh’s response on twitter was practically guaranteed seems to show that the speechwriters could sleep easy in the knowing that coverage of the speech wouldn’t JUST be about strangling benefits to Britain’s poorest working families.
Ever since their Suspicious Minds billboard campaign of 2010, where a practically white canvas and David Cameron’s blank face was offered up to disgruntled photoshoppers everywhere, it seems pretty clear that the Tory’s are calculating how to play the moans of the easily riled twitter bubble to lock down their eye-rolling core voters. Osborne isn’t trying to say anything by using this cultural touchstone, but has rather taken a list of liberal Trigger Warnings to make sure his speech (if not his actual message) gets enough traction on social media. In a move so cynical I wonder if I really should be throwing another 500 words on the social media bonfire.
Or maybe I shouldn’t be so cynical. Maybe on quite a fundamental level it should be argued that the Choose Life diktat of self-determination and free choice are the ultimate prizes in a Thatcherite word view. Without a good word or qualification to his name Renton manages to kick the habit and fuck off to London to be become an estate agent during the property boom of the mid 1990s. When his life-long friends come down South and embroil him in the shadiest of drug deals he manages to screw them all, and get away with the capital that will secure his future above all else. The ultimate self-actualisation and the master of his own destiny, I suppose Mark Renton is a Thatcherite hero after all. Maybe that was Osborne’s reason for choosing Trainspotting, but to quote the punchline that the old Etonian never got around to, who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?