Monday, September 17, 2012

A Right-Wing Rocker or Sloppy Reporting?

In a piece for the site entitled Right-wing Rock Alert!! England's Frank Turner emerges, Eric Dondero makes the same mistake that Michael Hann made in his piece Frank Turner: turns out he was rightwing all along. We just never noticed

From the post –
Browsing on a music messageboard earlier today, I came across a thread devoted to Frank Turner, which linked to an interview he gave last year. Turns out his libertarianism and belief in the power of the people to resist oppression aren't of the leftist sort. They're of the rightist sort.

Now, I probably should have picked up on the clues when I reviewed England Keep My Bones, but I didn't. And so I poked further and found assorted interviews of the kind of jaw-dropping rightwingness that used to get pop singers castigated in the music press, but seem to have passed under the radar entirely – despite Turner's status as an arena-headlining act.

Hann went on to quote excerpts of various interviews from 2009-2011, including one in which Turner referred to himself as a libertarian and right wing.  Here’s the quote –
"To start with, most people don't seem to understand what the difference between left and right is. For example, the BNP are a hard left party. I consider myself a libertarian, I consider myself to be pretty right wing and I get shit for saying that out loud. I was thinking about it the other day, I was thinking about how, quite often, I do keep myself to myself on the subject because I can't be fucking bothered to have some guy look all shocked at me because I think socialism's retarded." (, December 2009)
Obviously I can’t speak for Turner, but based on this quote, the term “right wing” appears to be used to contrast against “left wing.”  There is a big difference though between being a right-winger and a libertarian and that is what has been completely lost on Hann and Dondero. 

Dondero goes on to quote a piece written by Billy Bragg entitled Frank Turner's (a)political stance is part of a post-ideological culture.

From the post –
"I thought that if you had an acoustic guitar/Then it meant that you were a protest singer" sang the Smiths in 1985. Lots of people seem to have thought that about Frank Turner until they read Michael Hann's blogposthighlighting anti-leftist comments that Turner had made in a 2009 interview.

The singer-songwriter responded with a blogpost of his own, seeking to set the record straight: "Most of my friends disagree with me, not least Billy Bragg and Chris T-T. But, being adults, we understand that intelligent people can disagree about stuff. Despite occasionally running my mouth … I don't think people who call themselves socialists are evil, mad, stupid or deserving of being attacked; I just see the world differently."

The last time I discussed politics with Turner, we were sharing a tiny dressing room at a benefit gig for people with disabilities. I was chiding him for claiming in an interview that he was not a political songwriter. I reminded him what happened at his recent Wembley Arena gig when he played his song Glory Hallelujah – 12,000 people lifted up their voices and sang the refrain "Because there never was no God".

"C'mon," I said, "You've got to admit that's political." He shook his head vehemently. "No, it's not," he said, taking a slug on another of my beers. "It's just me saying what I think". Was he being evasive, unwilling to engage in political debate for fear of revealing his rightwing leanings? Or simply refusing to have his politics defined by the values of a previous generation?


Turner, like most musicians of his generation, has never played on a picket line. Born in 1981, he spent 2000-2005 in a hardcore punk band called Million Dead. This period also saw the rise in popularity of the MP3 music file. For the first time, peer-to-peer file sharing offered musicians a means to reach their audience without surrendering control to the man.

When the major record companies moved to close down the Napster file sharing site in 2001, many saw this as an attempt to suppress the freedoms that they enjoyed on the internet. Anger was directed not only against corporate conglomerates and government agencies implementing the crack-down, but at the whole concept of copyright itself. Bloggers began to self-identify as libertarians, giving a political dimension to their anger.

I get the feeling that Turner's politics were defined by this struggle, that, inspired by the libertarian language of the blogosphere, he adopted a worldview that echoes that espoused by Mick Jagger in the 1960s.

Following his release from drugs charges in 1967, Jagger was interviewed on TV by William Rees-Mogg, then editor of the Times. According to his memoirs, Rees-Mogg, expecting to hear Jagger express the left-leaning views of the Beatles, was astonished to find that the leader of the Rolling Stones took an individualistic libertarian view on ethical and social issues. Writing years later, Rees-Mogg argued that Jagger could be described as an early Thatcherite.

Which is not to say that Turner is a follower of the Iron Lady. Rather, he seems to have come to the same conclusion that I did in the late 70s, that there is not much difference between Labour and the Tories. I think he's wrong, but, having come of age in a time when ideology was dumped in favour of triangulation, who can blame him?

His angry denunciation of the left, made in the 2009 Moon & Back Music interview, should be seen in that light. He made these comments before the Tories came to power, galvanising a new generation into anti-cuts activists, and he has quickly issued a statement making it clear that he is no supporter of David Cameron. And of course he isn't the first pop star to slip spectacularly on a banana skin when making sweeping statements about politics.

Turner has a social conscience, let no one be in any doubt about that. He will stand in opposition to anyone he feels is holding people back from reaching their full potential – witness his support for the rights of people with disabilities at that benefit gig last month. What he doesn't have – or even feels he requires – is an ideological analysis to back up the ideas expressed in his songs.

What Bragg got that the others missed is the fact that Turner’s politics can’t be summed up in package with a nice little bow that conforms to the standard right/left dichotomy.  Last year I had the distinct honor of interviewing Turner and I posed the question of politics and being a libertarian to him –
Dave:  In an interview on JBTV you mentioned that you are a libertarian. What type of libertarian do you consider yourself? Do you feel that you are more in line philosophically with the likes of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson or Ron Paul or Ayn Rand?

Frank:  I don't know too much about Ron Paul actually. Rand, well, she has some pithy quotes here and there but her writing was pretty terrible and her imagery isn't to my taste at all, let's just say that. I actually consider myself to be a pretty classical liberal, but the word "liberal" has been so abused in recent history that it's pretty much meaningless now. (For example, the Liberal party in the UK is currently pushing for the state to draw up a list of approved journalists and ban anyone else from writing publicly; the mind boggles). My political heroes are people like Locke, Paine, and Jefferson and Franklin as well. To put it another way, I'm an Enlightenment fan, but specifically not a Marxist.

That doesn't sound like a right-winger to me.  Does it you you? 

For years, especially in the United States, libertarians have sided with Republicans and conservatives (i.e. right-wingers) because of the similarities in their economic policies, but on social issues they couldn’t be more different.  In order to understand this difference, one must understand that actual nature of the various political philosophies.  Here’s the basic breakdown, imagine a bar graph with a horizontal and vertical axis that cross in the center of the graph.  On the left horizontal end of the graph you have liberalism which essentially believes that the government should be able to tell you what to do with your money but not your morals.  On the right horizontal end of the graph you have conservatism which essentially believes that the government should be able to tell you what to do with you morals but not your money.  On the bottom is authoritarianism/totalitarianism which believes that the government should be able to tell you what to do with your money, morals, and pretty much everything else.  At the top is libertarianism which believes that the government shouldn’t be able to tell you what to do with your money or your morals.  Obviously there are more nuances to it but this gives you the general idea. 

Depending on one’s beliefs he/she generally falls into one of the quadrants on the graph (personally I fall in the liberal-libertarian portion).  Right-wingers would generally fall into the conservative-authoritarian quadrant of the graph (see Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, and Rush Limbaugh).  As one can tell by this description of political philosophy, what Turner has espoused is far from right-wing ideology.  Those who would see his views as right-wing are either ignorant of the true nature of political philosophy or simply lazy in their reporting.  I suspect that it is probably a combination of both.       

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