Imagining Morrissey’s first 100 days as the Mayor of London
Yeah, he bans meat
I don’t mind how I’m remembered so long as they’re precious recollections. I don’t want to be remembered for being a silly, prancing, nonsensical village idiot. But I really do want to be remembered. I want some grain of immortality. I think it’s been deserved. It’s been earned – Steven Patrick Morrissey, 1985.
Here was London, on the evening of Steven Patrick Morrissey’s hundredth day as mayor.
Sliding down behind the cuboids and Gherkins and Shards, the sun distant, the sky bruised through orange to purple. It was not the only light. The slate grey surface of the Thames was dancing with colour tonight, like every other night. When had the fires started? During the first week of the meat riots, or the first day? He couldn’t remember now.
So much had been achieved, yet so much had gone wrong. From his perch in City Hall he watched The Globe crackle, burning all over again. Through the splintered window pane he could taste the acrid smoke escaping from the streets, seething with looters, rioters and furious chefs. Their voices rose above the flames with the smoke, joining the strangling black vacuum of the universe, which held the sharp, thin blade of the moon.
He looked up there – hoping, praying, howling – for the helicopter PETA had promised to send.
Please arrive before the restauranteurs do, he thought, please help me. Dear God, he asked, please help me.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
That’s how the saying went, and it was the line they took when it happened, but he didn’t think it was accurate. They’d never been able to ignore him. They certainly did laugh though, never more so than at the announcement, in March 2016, that he would standing for Mayor on behalf of the Animal Welfare party. The old jokes returned with a new twist: This Charming Mayor? asked one headline, while the article below labelled him an “avatar of gesture politics at it’s most infuriatingly venal.”
Steven Patrick Morrissey? As mayor? They laughed for days this time. Bigmouth Strikes (Once) Again. Steven Patrick Morrissey, son of Manchester, resident of LA, pansexual and outspoken, still rocking that old quiff, thin and silver now – him? Mayor of the greatest city in the world? Stop it. It’s almost too much this time.That Joke Isn’t Funny Any-Mayor.
A.A. Gill – fulminating in the pages of that weekend’s Sunday Times Magazine – said he would move to Raqqa if Londoner’s elected this “laughably chippy, risibly dull pop star” to the highest office in the city. Would his manifesto be published as a Penguin Classic as well? How they laughed. How they crowed. How amazed he was to still be vulnerable to their insults after all these years.
But things change. Come May a humiliated Gill was packing his bags for Syria. What happened?
Sometimes you have to be a madman to see what’s coming around the corner.
Surely there was no way a candidate who equated the abattoir with Nazi concentration camps could win? Morrissey described Jamie Oliver as an “animal serial killer”. He believed animal justice was the most important political issue in the world. Sure, the normal grammars of politics had been disintegrating for some time by this point. You only had to look at the rise of Trump in the United States and Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party in Britain to feel as if a shift was occurring. But Morrissey? He who called McDonald’s “the core of modern evil”? Who once said that eating meat “is on the same level as child abuse”? It wasn’t merely that his priorities were fantastically out of touch with those of the electorate, it was that they were utterly alien. No politician in history had ever wooed the public by calling them “torturers” for drinking milk.
But in 2016 you had to be a madman to see what was coming round the corner.
It started at the end of March. Campylobacter, a lethal food poising bug, had infected every supermarket chicken in the UK. Nearly half a million died in London alone. Families disintegrated and survivors mourned. Pain turned to anger, then to outrage: at the supermarkets, at the farmers, at the government. Suddenly the man who said “the slaughterhouse effectively means that none of us are safe” was no longer a crank, he was the only man with all the answers.
Voters believed Morrissey when he told them that Meat was murder, because it had murdered. He annihilated carnivore candidates like Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan at the stump, famously pointing to Khan’s obsequious compering of Chicken Cottage’s annual awards ceremony in 2012 as evidence of his contempt for both animal and human life. Across London, galvanised by massive open air concerts he threw in Hyde Park, Londoners responded to the misanthropic singer, who promised them freedom from meat, freedom from disease, freedom from fear. An astonishing 75 per cent of the electorate voted for the man representing the Animal Welfare party. Morrissey singles choked the Top 40. He’d never had so much airtime, he’d never been taken so seriously.
On that glorious May night, when he appeared on a hastily erected stage in Trafalgar Square to celebrate his victory, This Charming Mayor no longer seemed like an insult, it seemed like the truth. “I no longer feel…so horribly lonely,” said the Mancunian, telling the wildly cheering crowds: “Tonight I am throwing my arms around London. I am throwing my arms around you…” He was their awakener, their landslider. He made them feel safe by turning the world on its face.
If it appeared as irreversibly dramatic as an asteroid slamming into the planet, it’s because it was.
A.A. Gill wasn’t the only one to leave. Within days of his ecstatic ascension, Morrissey’s London was emptying. The chefs and the restauranteurs and the butchers and the fishmongers fled, their livelihoods destroyed, their products banned from being consumed. The Royal Family flew to Balmoral, terrified after Morrissey said that on the day the Queen died he’d be “hammering the nails in the coffin to make sure she was really in there.”
It was this revolutionary rhetoric that saw billions of pounds flood out of the capital, as the billionaires who used London as a safe haven realised it was a hotbed for radicalism. Property prices plummeted. British Airways reported record sales for business class flights out of London. Bankers, their links with the meat industry castigated by the former Smiths frontman, began to leave in their droves. The glittering office blocks of the City and Canary Wharf emptied. Swathes of the city became ghostly and unrecognisable. Unemployment, government debt and inflation all rocketed. The markets turned on London as public sector workers, from teachers to police, held massive strikes.
Economic collapse didn’t bother Morrissey however. What bothered the Mayor was the return of meat to the city. Battered by Campylobacter, the people had initially given up their fried chicken, their roasted lambs, their sashimi-ed salmon. But gradually their taste returned – and the prohibition of all non-vegetarian foodstuffs- announced on the very first day of his mayoralty – only ensured the creation of a flourishing black market. Underground meat running, chicken wing bootleggers and BBQ speakeasies all began to flourish.
Morrissey wasn’t just a vegetarian, he was a fundamentalist. In his presence there was a total understanding that meat wasn’t to be seen or smelled. Once elected Mayor, he expected the same to apply in his city. Every spare square metre of advertising space was dedicated to reeducating the population. “Meat is murder, it could murder you” said one poster. “You do not want to kill, you are not naturally evil” said another. It wasn’t enough. The subterranean meat markets continued to grow.
With the Met on strike Morrissey turned to what historians of the period would come to refer to as the “Mozz Army” to police the city and break the back of the new meat industry. It was composed of two parts. Firstly there were the animal rights activists and eco-warriors who flocked to London from all over the globe to build this brave new vegetarian utopia.
The second, far more feared group, were the skinheads: hardened members of the far-right from across the country who worshipped the singer. After all wasn’t it Morrissey who’d said “if you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won’t hear an English accent. You’ll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent.” Wasn’t it Morrissey who’d written a song called The National Front Disco?
As the meat riots began, then intensified, as London burned, the sound that could be heard, above the screaming and the shattering glass was a chant, mimicking the football anthem: Morr-iss-ey! Morr-iss-ey! Morr-iss-ey!
Mozz rule had become mob rule. With the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force just days away, an increasingly despised and tyrannical Morrissey withdrew further into his City Hall headquarters. The angry return of chefs to the capital, once it appeared that public feeling had shifted, only added to the carnage.
On the night of his hundredth day, as he mourned a city eating itself, and a lot of meat, only one thing appeared clear: whatever happened now, Morrissey would be remembered, he earned that precious grain of immortality.