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Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 11:36 GMT

Pop goes the election

There's no denying British politicians are fighting for the middle ground, at least when it comes to picking campaign songs. Surely things can only get better?

Goodbye Jerusalem. Lower the Red Flag. Political anthems have had their day it seems. The battlebuses of the current election campaign rattle happily along the musical middle of the road.

Despite boasting the support of US pop sensation Britney Spears and UK chart-topper Geri Halliwell, Labour selected Lifted (a six-year-old song by Lighthouse Family) to be its hustings theme and answerphone muzak.

Music critic Stuart Maconie points out that as well as being "uplifting", the tune has "enjoyed 'heavy rotation' on the CD autochanger of the nation's Mondeos".

The Liberal Democrats have picked the equally easy-on-the-ear New Beginning by Boyzone star Stephen Gately.

Both parties will be hoping to top the success of D:Ream's Things Can Only Get Better in 1997, arguably the daddy of all off-the-peg election ditties.

The club favourite not only summed up Labour's claim the Conservative government had run its course, but also gave the party a cut of the royalties thanks to D:Ream singer and Labour donor Peter Cunnah.

In your D:Reams

Mr Cunnah has responded angrily to the suggestion he is disillusioned with Tony Blair and forbidden Labour to use his song.

The decision to abandon the track may instead have been prompted by Mr Blair's deputy, John Prescott, who at a rally confided to Mr Cunnah he was "bloody fed up with the song".

The minister may also have been stung by criticisms of his attempts to dance to the high-energy track at Labour's post-election bash.

In the interim, Labour has toyed with a number of other tunes. Canned Heat's Let's Work Together, was played before the prime minister's party conference speech last year.

The government had just taken a battering in the polls following the fuel protest, so arguably the selection may have been intended to buoy party spirits. However, several newspapers interpreted the song as a warning to any members intent on pushing Mr Blair on issues such as pensions.

Perfect harmony

Sadly, there are only so many pop songs extolling the virtues of unity. In the 1999 Scottish elections, Labour chose The Farm's All Together Now, to go head-to-head with the Scottish National Party's folky Caledonia. ("Tartan-and-heather kitsch" said Labour. "Made in Scotland for Scotland," replied the SNP.)

Labour activists said they were drawn to All Together Now's title and chorus, but admitted "most of the lyrics were inappropriate" since the song dwells on British soldiers rushing towards German machine guns at the Somme.

"We've come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good" is a Fatboy Slim lyric few rally organisers can resist. Fatboy (or Norman Cook as the DJ is also known) says the verse has "become the anthem of the soft left".

However, the tune's title, Praise You, and its chorus, "I have to praise you like I should", horrified the Independent's Anne McElvoy when the track was played as Tony Blair took to the Labour Party conference stage in 1999.

"[It was] pure Fuhrermusik. Leni Riefenstahl was there in spirit," she said.

Such criticisms may not see Mr Cook dropped from the Labour playlist, though his vocal support for Ken Livingstone's London mayoral campaign (in opposition to the official Labour candid) presumably won't make the DJ a party favourite.

Gored by the censor

Across the Atlantic, the same tune was picked up by Democrat presidential hopeful Al Gore. It was chosen despite the fact the album it was taken from had been deemed obscene and deserving of a "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" sticker - a system championed by Al Gore's wife Tipper.

His Republican opponent, George Bush, plumped for We The People by Mr Achy Breaky Heart himself, Billy Ray Cyrus. Mr Cyrus, a "lifelong" democrat and the son of a union leader, was somewhat confused by the honour, but hoped it would deliver him another chart hit.

To avoid having to shoehorn an existing song (and indeed the political views and pop star excesses of their creators) into your campaign, how much better would it be to have an anthem made to measure?

Note of caution

The Tories plumped to have Mike Batt - composer to The Wombles and the German soccer team - write their campaign tune.

Heartlands, a cross between Batt's Bright Eyes and the theme to the 1980s Australian soap The Sullivans, is an instrumental track.

Oscar Brand, a folk singer who has recorded American presidential campaign songs dating back to 1789, says good lyrics can get a politician elected. Especially if, unlike Mr Hague, that politician has a name that rhymes with something other than 'vague'.

"Get On The Raft With Taft, that rhymes very well," says Mr Brand of President William H Taft's campaign song from 1909.

"[But] it has no meaning when you have a man who weighs 370 pounds in the raft."

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