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While enjoying critical acclaim and commercial success with his latest album California Son, media attention over the last few weeks on Morrissey has focused less on his musical contributions and more on his political beliefs. Following an appearance on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon on 13 May, in which he was seen wearing a For Britain badge in support of the far-right party, the singer has received considerable backlash from the press over his affiliation with a group considered by many to promote racist agendas.
During a performance of Morning Starship, a cover of a track originally recorded by the late 1970s vocalist Jobriath, viewers noticed the badge on Morrissey’s blazer, which would immediately stir controversy levelled against both the artist and the show’s presenter, actor and comedian Fallon. A week earlier photographs had been published online which showed the former Smiths frontman wearing the same badge during a residency on Broadway in New York.
‘I have been following a new party called For Britain which is led by Anne Marie Waters. It is the first time in my life that I will vote for a political party,’ he admitted in a 2018 interview on Tremr. ‘Finally I have hope. I find the Tory-Labour-Tory-Labour constant switching to be pointless. For Britain has received no media support and have even been dismissed with the usual childish ‘racist’ accusation. I don’t think the word ‘racist’ has any meaning any more, other than to say, ‘You don’t agree with me, so you’re a racist.’ People can be utterly, utterly stupid.’
As a result of the same interview Morrissey was forced to cancel his UK tour following protests over his support of Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League, who had recently been arrested for breach of the peace. ‘I mean, look at the shocking treatment of Tommy Robinson,’ he commented, after showing support towards For Britain founder Waters. ‘We deeply regret any inconvenience to the fans and promise to reschedule UK and European dates as soon as possible,’ he announced via his Facebook page. ‘The LIHS World Tour will continue, starting back up in Mexico City and South America, starting on 23 November.’
Morrissey has remained vocal throughout the controversy, even claiming on his official website, ‘I am sorry the UK print media’s contorted interpretation of who and what I am has gone all wrong. In these days when most people are afraid to even whisper, the print media write as if someone is coming to get them. This aching nervousness brings on the vengeful and paranoid. Inventing Britain’s doomsday is the preoccupation of the tabloids, and they can hate you for having lived.’
The following week he would add, ‘It is worth noting that their chief antagonist in this hate campaign is someone I took to court some years ago for writing lies about me. He lost his court battle then, and now he’s seeking his personal revenge by using the Guardian, who have been harassing everyone and anyone connected with my music imploring them to say something terrible about me for print. This is the open face of Soviet Britain.’
Morrissey’s support towards For Britain was repaid in the weeks following his appearance on both Broadway and The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon as Waters would publicly thank him for his promotion of her party. ‘I can tell you that the traffic to our website exploded with the story breaking of you wearing the For Britain button badge, which you have been wearing everywhere from what I can see,’ she explained in a video. ‘Thank you also to the Daily Mail for your hysterical coverage of this. It has brought loads of people to the party.’
But his choice to show support for such a controversial party has come with a price, resulting in train stations removing adverts for his new album from their walls and numerous tabloids criticising the singer for his political beliefs. ‘To see Morrissey embrace the far right so openly was shocking. But was it surprising? Ever since the early ’90s, he has flirted with the far right and fascist imagery – wrapping himself up in the union jack, writing a song called The National Front Disco, making inflammatory comments about immigration,’ explained a Guardian piece entitled Bigmouth Strikes Again and Again: Why Morrissey Fans Feel So Betrayed, its title a reference to a song released by The Smiths in 1986.
Yet guitarist Johnny Marr, who had formed The Smiths alongside Morrissey in the early 1980s, has stated that he does not believe the singer’s right-wing opinions will tarnish the legacy of their former band, hailed as one of the most important artists of their decade. ‘I don’t think you can change history,’ he told the NME. I’ve said that before. I’m not worried. It’s got nothing to do with my world or my life. The songs are out there for people to judge, relate to and hear. I think that’s all going to be forgotten in a few weeks, as these things inevitably are – for better or worse. It’s always been that way. I understand the issue but I’m used to stuff coming and going.’
Most recently Morrissey has responded to the criticism and backlash via Twitter, in which he asked his followers, ‘Why do YOU not have freedom of speech? Or freedom to wear a badge on TV?’ This question received considerable criticism, with the majority of fans highlighting that he has the freedom to voice his opinion or wear the badge but the public also have the right to speak out against him for doing so. And while California Sun continues to receive a positive response it would seem that his political beliefs have eclipsed its release and become the focal point during his promotion of the album. ‘Without the baggage of his political views,’ commented the The A.V. Club in their review, ‘California Son would be a worthy addition to a mostly stellar catalogue, offering insight into a great singer and lyricist’s taste and breathing new life into mostly forgotten songs.’