Frank Turner Made Libertarianism Uncool
Does this guy look like an anarchist?
Not since Ian Curtis was wearing a blue rosette, kicking a miner in the goolies and giving Mrs T the thumbs-up from a Downing Street window in 1979 has there been quite such a palaver over a musician's political tendencies. Someone a bit slick from The Guardian has gone round and googled "Frank Turner" + "Opinions Slightly To The Right Of Hitler", and come up with half a dozen quotes wherein the big galloot bigs up individualism, bigs down socialism and argues that the BNP is a left-wing party. In response, Frank has declared that he is sick to the back teeth of people thinking he's a socialist, and outed himself as a libertarian.
The Guardian's on a bit of an outing roll this week. On Monday, they brought us the news that Nikki Minaj may have endorsed Mitt Romney (except that she didn't, and was basically just looking for a word that rhymed with "bum me" or something). Look out for Friday's bumper special edition where they reveal that Lil B doesn't believe in Medicare and The Happy Mondays once had a picture of Norman Tebbit hanging in their tour van.
Right now, Jonathan Freedland is probably working up tomorrow's editorial about what a pity it is that Frank had to go and retroactively fuck up Danny Boyle's big NHS Olympic love-in. Frank didn't believe in any of that, did he? Play his song backwards and you'll hear the sound of a child being turned away by doctors because its parents can't afford medical insurance. The clues where there all along, had anyone ever bothered to look. Witness "Sons Of Liberty": catchy title, catchy lyrics about liberty... “To keep themselves unto themselves, to fight the rising tide / That if in the smallest battles we surrender to the state / We enter in a darkness whence we never shall escape.” Chris Evans' TFI Friday used to have a game called something like "Cleavage-Or-Arse-Cleavage?" The modern equivalent might be: "Frank Turner Lyric Or Paul Ryan Speech Extract?"
What no one has yet considered is what this is going to do to the popularity of libertarianism. It's the cool thing, right? Everyone's a libertarian these days. Everyone wants to live on a man-made platform in the sea spearing passing dolphins. It's the ultimate solution to the fact that socialism, Tory-ism, liberalism all come with big honks of cliché attached, ready-made retards to align yourself with. Libertarianism is the no-solution solution to that bind; opt-out, post-politics politics for a generation who think they can absolve themselves of the problem by choosing not to choose. But now that Frank Turner's involved, libertarianism has lost its cool. Just as every time Brian May appears on TV talking about how evil fur is I shoot another dove through the neck with an air rifle, so too Frank's endorsement may cause people to vote True Labour in their thousands just to spite him. If I were the head of the UK Libertarian Party (actual thing, for which Frank has voiced actual support), I'd be asking him to distance himself from himself.
There's already an important life lesson here. Just because a man is a latter-day folk singer with a goatee and a whiff of the student union to him doesn't mean that said man would like to give you a bunch of money so you can sit on benefits playing Xbox and doing Ivory Wave all day with his taxes. He doesn't sit on his ass as a crusty folk singer. He goes out and he damn well works as a crusty folk singer. He has learned us all. First impressions can be misleading. Do not judge a man by the colour of his goatee. Judge him by the content of the blogs he writes in reaction to a press hoo-ha. “These days I suppose the word 'libertarian' does pretty well for me, though I suspect it’s a little over-intellectual as a description,” he said on his site yesterday, in a neat inversion of the heady days of Frank Ocean outing himself on Tumblr. “A lot of the fuss here to me seems to be because some people have had an idea of what they want me to be, and have discovered I’m not that.”
Whatever your views on his views, this is by far and away the most interesting facet of Frank Turner, and in all honesty we'd rather spend a year marching with batons in his political youth wing than three more minutes of him singing about how cool booze is. In one of these dug-up quotes, he makes the obvious (but obviously ignored) point that national socialism is still an inverted kind of socialism. Clearly, he didn't get the memo that whenever the word "Nazis" is mentioned you're expected to put your hands on your head and shout "RACISM IS WRONG!" 20 times at the top of your voice.
Just as people forget he used to be in a hardcore band, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that the guy's also a former Black Bloc anarchist. Eventually, he realised that dropping breezeblocks on coppers wouldn't return us to an idealised state of nature any faster, so he seems to have become what anarchists do when they retire: a libertarian. It's easy to see how this happens. If anarchy's another word for nothing left to lose, then libertarianism is anarchism for people with second homes.
In the language of the intersex, Frank has "transitioned", and in that context, it's not surprising that he isn't down with Karl Marx. Anyone who's ever found themselves lodged between black-booted anarchists and crusty Socialist Worker types at a march will understand what a noxious forcefield exists between the two. Both groups are defined not so much by who they love as who they hate, and old enemies die hard. Fortunately for him, there is already a state where his dreamt-of libertarian minimal government do-what-you-like utopia exists. It is called Somalia. Holiday, Frank?
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes