‘COOL BRITANNIA’ – A RECIPE FOR DISASTER
By Julian Nettlefold
29 Mar 09. For those of our readers who saw the excellent BBC 2 series on Communism, you may have caught the feature in the one but last feature where a Czech pop star was interviewed. She said that the revenue generated by her pop songs was more than the entire output of the largest Czech industrial Company.
I wonder if New Labour had picked this up when planning the election campaign of 1997, when the phrase New Labour and Cool Britannia were coined? It was these policies and the stubborn insistence by Gordon Brown that there would be ‘No end to boom and bust,’ and his policies which created the mayhem we are now experiencing in the credit crunch.
The phrase “Cool Britannia” was first used in 1967 as a song title by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. The phrase “Cool Britannia” reappeared in the mid-1990s as a registered trade mark for one of Ben & Jerry’s ice-creams (vanilla with strawberries and chocolate-covered shortbread). The ice cream name and recipe was coined in early 1996 by an American lawyer living in London, Sarah Moynihan-Williams, as a winning entry in a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream competition. Her name for the ice cream as “Cool Britannia” was meant to presage the era of New Labour, which came about with their election win in May 1997. The phrase was quickly adopted in the media and in advertising, seeming to capture the “It” quality of London at the time. The election of Blair’s government in 1997 on a platform of modernisation and with Blair as a relatively young Prime Minister gave the idea fresh currency. There is a strong parallel between this and the catch-phrase “Swinging London” during the early years of Harold Wilson’s Labour government.
To the extent that it had any real meaning, “Cool Britannia” referred to the transient fashionable London scene, 1990s bands such as Blur and Oasis, fashion designers, the Young British Artists and magazines. Cool Britannia also summed up the mood in Britain during the mid-1990s Britpop movement, when there was a sudden influx of lively British rock and pop music from bands such as Oasis, Blur, Suede, Supergrass, Pulp and The Verve, as well as the Spice Girls. Many link popularity of the Austin Powers films and the resurgence of James Bond 007 as factors of the spread of Cool Britannia. The movement, along with political factors, saw a renewal in British pride, typified by such things as Noel Gallagher’s Union Flag guitar and Geri Halliwell’s iconic skimpy Union Flag dress. In March 1997 Vanity Fair published a special edition on Cool Britannia with Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit on the cover with the title ‘London Swings! Again!’. Figures in the issues included Alexander McQueen, Damien Hirst, Graham Coxon and the editorial staff of Loaded. By 1998 The Economist was commenting that “many people are already sick of the phrase,” and by 2000 – after the fall of Britpop – it was being used mainly in a mocking or ironic way.
Although “Britannia” refers to the whole of Great Britain, and not just England, similar terms for Wales and Scotland, “Cool Cymru” and “Cool Caledonia” respectively, were also coined, but never gained any real popular currency.
The best manner by which the future path of the UK Economy could be tracked would be to view the list of guest at the first Number 10 party. They were filled with pop stars, lawyers (of course), bankers, importers, retailers and web gurus. There was a marked lack of industrial figures and of course an almost complete lack of anyone from the defence industry.
As Tony Blair grew in stature and confidence, his requirement for a strong defence industry was seen as a means of financing his many wars. He declared more wars, seven, than any other U.K. Prime Minister. These policies were in direct confrontation with Gordon Brown at the Treasury whose dislike of defence and the defence industry is well documented. But it seemed all righ