Badly delivering words somebody else wrote, to an audience of peers who are outwardly enthusiastic but inwardly expecting you’ll be completely shambolic, and all in the knowledge that whatever happens, the party will likely end up divided over it?
When you stop to consider the similarities, it’s easy to see why there should be such a strong link between the art of politics and the art of karaoke. Members of Parliament love it, they simply love it, by many estimations (mine) more than any other industry group in the country.
Perhaps they think of it as training. After all, to volunteer to sing during karaoke is to open yourself up to scrutiny and embarrassment, breezing past gaffes and hoping the intensity of your charisma will simply carry the moment. Who knows how often it happens in the private rooms along Whitehall (as a senior civil servant, remember, Sue Gray kept a karaoke machine in her office), but never do the disciplines overlap quite like during party conference season.
There, in the cleaner air of the regions, when the booze flows and Westminster tensions are let go, every night post-dinner, a middle-ranking minister or shadow minister giddy on Jägermeister and off their nut on think tank branded stationery, slings their lanyard over their shoulder and decides that what this country deserves, what this country needs, is to hear them yell a Queen song in a dimly-lit banqueting space. The audience? Dozens of their uneasy colleagues, a handful of cannot-believe-their-luck lobby hacks pretending they aren’t live-streaming the whole thing to social media, and a function band quietly wishing a fire alarm, or an asteroid, or a nerve gas attack, might end the moment early.
The latest perpetrator is Dame Priti Patel, who didn’t so much perform Angels by Robbie Williams at the Tory conference in Manchester this week, as just oversee it. Yet karaoke it was. And in taking to the stage, the former Home Secretary joins an illustrious supergroup of MPs. So let us rank them. From cringe to cringier, dreadful to dreadfullest, karaoke to kara-absolutely-not-okay.
2023: Dame Priti Patel sings Angels by Robbie Williams
It’s difficult to know what’s going on here. There is Dame Priti, as central and grey-suited and blank-faced as David Byrne in Stop Making Sense (speaking of, this doesn’t), howling along to Robbie Williams between what looks like Paul Hollywood and Minty from EastEnders.
Lamentably, the former Home Secretary does not have a microphone so we cannot appraise her voice, leaving us with just her awkward, sober lip-synching to judge. Hands clasped and oddly formal, she calls to mind the moment Queen Elizabeth II joined Ozzy Osborne, Cliff Richard et al on stage at the end of the Golden Jubilee Party at the Palace in 2002.
“She won’t forsake me…” we hear, as the camera pans to Liz Truss, who famously forsook the nation after 49 days in number 10, and on to the belle of the ball, Nigel Farage. He simply opens his gaping maw and laughs like a bin, right in the faces of the Tories. A cursed, cursed video.
Better alternative song: I Am The Law by Anthrax
Kara-okay or kara-absolutely-not-okay? So very much the latter. She doesn’t have the lyrics or a mic – why is she up there? 1/10
2023: Munira Wilson sings Don’t You Want Me by The Human League
Twickenham MP Munira Wilson and Richmond council deputy leader Jim Millard belt out “Don’t you want me baby” at a karaoke night during Lib Dem conference pic.twitter.com/4VIt42H3pU
— Rachael Burford (@RachaelBurford) September 25, 2023
A recent plea from the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham here, singing with Councillor Jim Millard. Munira increased the Lib Dem majority in her constituency in the last election, so I suppose the local answer is “yes”. She gives it a good go, backing into Millard (who is enjoying himself far too much) for support, but it’s difficult to escape the fact that the room they’re in has all the party vibes of a holding cell. Is there even an audience? Was this simply staged in an empty corridor and leaked to prove Lib Dems can have fun? Famished Russell Brand fans, there’s a bone for you.
Better alternative song: A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got) by Fergie
Kara-okay or kara-absolutely-not-okay? Now I’ve decided this was all a set-up, I cannot unsee it. 2/10
2022: Angela Rayner and Jonathan Ashworth sing Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey
Angela Rayner doing karaoke!!
You're welcome x pic.twitter.com/uRx9TSBjqF
— Graham Hughes (@EveryCountry) September 27, 2022
It would be a shock if Angela Rayner wasn’t among the drunken karaoke crowd, given one of her 7,219 briefs as Labour’s deputy leader is to have enough personality and charisma to cover for Keir Starmer’s near-complete paucity of it. Hair of Florence Welch, footwear of Joan Jett… compared to most MPs, especially Jonathan Ashworth, Rayner’s a convincing rock star.
Better alternative song: Tory Scum (I Don’t Like ‘Em) by Pinty
Kara-okay or kara-absolutely-not-okay? The song’s basically a football chant at this point, but at least she didn’t do Queen. For most MPs on this list, karaoke is the most they’ve ever cut loose. But we know this is unlikely to have been even the loosest Rayner got that hour. Ashworth lets it down, though. I can’t explain how, he just does. 6/10
2021: Thérèse Coffey sings (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
The tense is all wrong. Coffey – who loves karaoke, as you’ll discover – was clearly having the time of her life at the very moment she performed the Dirty Dancing anthem with fellow MP Will Quince in 2021. She was Work and Pensions Secretary at the time, and had just overseen a massive Universal Credit cut. But look how much she’s enjoying herself!
The beat builds, the band gets ready to kick it up a notch for the chorus, and Coffey begins involuntarily pogoing, her chiffon scarf flying up and down. At this moment there is a look on her face that I’m sure is her deliberating whether to continue the song in a guttural death metal growl, before deciding, “No, Thérèse, resist – this is disturbing enough as it is.”
Better alternative song: 1st of Tha Month by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, or Turnip Song by John Oates
Kara-okay or kara-absolutely-not-okay? Well, at least she’s having fun. Somebody in the country has to. 4/10
2018: Matt Hancock sings Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen
No, shut up. Shut. Up. That’s not… that’s not Matt Hancock is it? Hold on hold on hold on, Matt Hancock the MP? The former Health Secretary-turned-star of too many podcasts, I’m A Celebrity, SAS: Who Dares Wins and the most unsettling CCTV footage since that woman put a cat in a bin? Doing something awkward and attention-seeking while on camera? Shut up. No, no, I don’t believe you. He would never. If there’s one thing we know about Matt Hancock, it is that he cannot abide publicity for the sake of personal pride or integrity. Don’t believe it, sorry.
(N.B. Yes that is Thérèse Coffey again. To our collective regret, nobody did stop her then, she was having such a good time.)
Better alternative song: I’m Shy by Self Esteem, or It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy
Kara-okay or kara-absolutely-not-okay? Why does he also look like he’s performing a screamo song? Was this taught in the same class as the power stance? Harrowing. 1/10