Liz enters to M People
On Pop

Feelbad anthem

Liz Truss does indeed “move on out”

This article is taken from the November 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

I hesitate to try to understand the mind of Liz Truss. Firstly, because it seems like a very weird and inaccessible place. Secondly, because the way things are going she might not even be PM by the time you read this, and then what good will all the trying to understand have done us?

It’s a break-up song. Specifically, it’s a song about breaking-up with a cheating, manipulative narcissist

Still, one particular Liz Truss decision at the Conservative conference last month was so odd, so unaccountable, so fascinatingly bad — and so much in the purview of this column — that I can’t leave it alone. Specifically: what possessed her to make the entry music for her speech “Moving On Up” by Mancunian house act, M People?

I suppose Truss imagined this song would be to her as “Things Can Only Get Better” was to Tony Blair in 1997. A feelgood anthem that captures the essence of a re-energised party, bringing an exciting new vision to a knackered political landscape. Everyone onto the dancefloor: the nation’s future is throwing some shapes.

But this isn’t 1997, and Truss isn’t Blair. Even without the economic barracking of the chaotic pre-conference mini budget, she’s just the latest face of a Tory government that’s been in place since 2010. The public was always going to struggle to feel as enthused about a Truss premiership as Truss clearly does herself.

Then there are the lyrics. Dance music doesn’t necessarily encourage close attention to the words — we’re here for the vibes, not a poetry seminar — but you can bet the entire remaining value of your savings account that Alastair Campbell scrutinised every line of “Things Can Only Get Better” for anything that could have undermined the party’s message.

The band’s singer Heather Small

Apparently no one in the Truss camp bothered to do that for “Moving On Up”. Because “Moving On Up” is not just a generically positive club banger. It’s a break-up song. Specifically, it’s a song about breaking-up with a cheating, manipulative narcissist — and while you could argue this is perfectly apt for a party that’s just seen off Boris Johnson, it’s probably not the line you want to push.

It’s not even like the song’s meaning is buried in the verses. It’s right there in the chorus: “I’m moving on up, you’re moving on out.” For members of the electorate at large eyeing the alarming numbers on their mortgage statements, this is all too on-the-nose.

And we know Liz listens to the lyrics, because she quoted a Taylor Swift song in a Commons debate on International Women’s Day. Maybe, with songs as with other things, she’s only capable of registering the bits she wants to hear.

Nor did anyone think to check how the band felt about their music being used. It turned out they were not happy: predictably, because there aren’t many musicians who are Tories, never mind ones from Manchester. Songwriter Mike Pickering declared himself “livid”; singer Heather Small’s son, a Labour councillor, noted the irony of it being about ditching a toxic ex.

It’s amazing that politicians, especially Conservatives, insist on putting themselves through this humiliation. David Cameron doesn’t deserve sympathy for many things, but it’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for anyone who can’t say they’re a fan of a band without being publicly disowned. When Cameron said he liked The Smiths, guitarist Johnny Marr tweeted: “No you don’t … I forbid you to like it.” It’s enough to make you retreat to the shed.

It would have made more sense for Truss to start from the small list of Tory-supporting musicians but even then, I suspect she’d have faced a wall of rejections: a “natural conservative” like Bryan Ferry or a personal finance hawk like Gary Barlow is probably not going to feel much affinity with a merry band of market crashers.

There’s something haunting about the fact that politicians are having to reach back a generation to find something that sounds like a positive message

The appropriate soundtrack to a Truss premiership isn’t a cheerful piece of dance pop or the female empowerment anthems of Swift. Really she should have ascended the stage to an avant garde free jazz piece or a polyrhythmic slab of thrash metal. Music that doesn’t care if anyone else likes it, and doesn’t consider itself bound to the petty rules of “melody” or “time signatures”, any more than Truss considers herself bound by “collective responsibility”.

And, ideally, something that isn’t almost thirty years old. “Moving On Up” came out in 1993 — the same year as “Things Can Only Get Better”, which was a mere stripling of four when New Labour chose it as a campaign song.

There’s something haunting about the fact that politicians are having to reach back a generation to find something that sounds like a positive message. Has there been nothing to get excited about since the peak of warehouse raves and ecstasy? Are we really so culturally depleted? If this is Truss’s battle cry, it’s because she’s still fighting a war with the last century.

It’s not just her lack of attention to detail that’s going to sink Truss. Nor is it her stubborn refusal to negotiate with reality. Her curse is that she’s a personal incarnation of the Conservative Party’s exhaustion. All those faults are on display in her choice of conference song. When you hear it on the next Labour party political broadcast, you’ll know it’s all over for Truss.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover