A Semi-Famous Musician Runs For Office in Brussels (Guest Column)

crispin hunt

Crispin Hunt at The IPO and Aardman Animations launch of the Music Inc. app in Feb. 5, 2014. 

Brexit leers menacingly across Europe, pregnant with risk. Populists are peddling their nostalgic fairytale about making Britain great again. The country is a global laughing stock. Is it time for Brit-pop to take on British populism?

I decided the answer was yes -- so I’m taking a break from songwriting and trying my hand at wrong-righting. I’ve decided to run for European Parliament.

I’m no political virgin. After a joyous moment of cult (aka failed) pop stardom as the frontman of Longpigs, which The Guardian called “the great forgotten band of the nineties,” I worked as a researcher for a former Labour Arts Minister. However, in keeping with the grand nepotistic tradition of politics as a family business, he also happened to be my step-father.

Since then, I’ve gone back to pop -- but not stardom. I’ve written songs with genius performers like Florence and the Machine, Ellie Goulding and Lana Del Rey, to name a few. As a middle-class ghostwriter I’ve topped the charts several times, but still struggle to make ends meet, due to the inequities of the digital media business. Since the early noughties I’ve combined my passions for music and politics by campaigning for creators rights, currently as Chair of the Ivors Academy, The U.K.’s largest organization of songwriters and composers. We run the Ivor Novello Awards, the U.K.’s songwriting and composing awards. I also represent music creators on the boards of larger music organizations.

Shouldn’t I leave the politics to Bono? Well, having spent a fair amount of the last four years advocating in Brussels for the game-changing, European Copyright Directive I’ve come to believe deeply in the European Project. Contrary to populist belief, Brussels isn’t a gravy-train of faceless Eurocrats -- it’s a democratic project to push meaningful, egalitarian change. It’s a place of work at a time when Westminster increasingly resembles a place of worship, a shrine to bankers, barristers and businessmen. Westminster has replaced morality with efficiency, reason with self-interest and a focus on the public good with one on consumer welfare.

The United Kingdom is now anything but. Half of us delude ourselves that the country is a classless industrial kingdom of Brunei, battleships and banking, while the other half prefers the view of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics: Bond, Beatles and Mr. Bean. As for class-less, the clue’s in the term.

I decided the solution wasn’t to withdraw, but to engage: Use technology instead of letting it use us, and work for our mutual welfare as well as our own. The naivety of ‘Lennonist Leninism?’ Maybe. But blind trust in markets merely substitutes one kind of naivety for another. Even dogs don’t eat dogs -- they live in complex communities where the biggest eat first but the young and infirm are protected by the pack. Imagine.

As a lifelong socialist -- more Swedish- than Soviet-style -- it’s taken me a while to understand that we Britons, with our penchant for warm beer and hard cheese, will never choose Marx. So I’m standing -- Americans would say “running” -- in the May 23rd EU elections for a brand new party, Change UK. It’s an alliance of pro-EU politicians in search of compromise and consensus, policy based on evidence not doctrine.

As a longtime performer and songwriter I believe all art is inherently political. Every song enters a political discourse. So when Billboard asked me to write a few columns on my meddlesome adventure into politics, I accepted. As Jay Leno jokes, “Politics is just show business for ugly people.” I might just fit right in. 

In a few days, I’ll share stories of campaigning around Britain's Southwest, back in a tour bus, trying to change the world.

Crispin Hunt is the former lead singer of the '90s Britpop band Longpigs, as well as a multi-platinum songwriter and music producer who has written or worked with Jake Bugg, Florence and The Machine, Lana Del Ray, Ellie Goulding, Natalie Imbruglia, Bat For Lashes and Rod Stewart, among others. He has been elected as a Director of PRS and PPL, sits on the U.K. Intellectual Property Office Advisory Panel and is a former CEO of the Featured Artist Coalition.