Chumbawamba – Never Mind The Ballots (1987)

This recording was written and produced amidst a background of parties and media scrambling their way towards a General Election. It was inspired by disgust at the hypocrisy, lies and sudden fake concern which riddles the election circus.

We are not saying “Don’t vote”. We are asking you to question whether the election process is anything more than a substitute for real change. A substitute for real choice. We are asking you to look closely at “democracy”: a self-perpetuating system of party tricks designed to keep us in our place.

The British democratic process is more powerful than any single party. It serves the same purpose as does the brutal repression in South Africa, the totalitarian dictatorship of the USSR, or the media-cabaret sham of the USA. That purpose is to uphold the wealth and power of the few, and the poverty and powerlessness of the many. Go to the polls: choose your brand of oppression. Whether we vote or not, or who we vote for, is largely unimportant. Either way, it will have little effect on the state’s profit turnover. What is important is if we allow ourselves to see the elections as anything other than a meaningless diversion; if we place hopes and fears on who holds power, instead of putting time and energy into creating alternatives – both for ourselves and our communities.

Great British Democracy offers us a pencil and the five seconds it takes to put our cross next to the name of someone we’ve never met and are never likely to meet, let alone be able to communicate with. This rare treat is served up to us once every 1825 days, give or take a month or two. Here is our lifetime’s supply of democracy XXXXXXXXXXXX. What is ultimately more important than the vote is what we do with the rest of our lives. Making choices and taking decisions for ourselves, on our own terms. Never mind the ballots… here comes the real change.


“You want jobs? I’ve got jobs!
Hospitals? Top of my list!
Tax cuts and platform shoes
For every small businessman!
…Just give me your vote”

“Schools, prisons? Of course we’ll build ’em!
Condoms for the American G.I.’s!
Nuclear reactors will breed like rabbits!
Police oppression? You can have it, sir!
…Just give me your vote”

Put your cross in the box!

“You want houses? See me afterwards!
Want my autograph? See my bodyguard
Pre-election budget handouts!
You want a war? No problem
…Just give me your vote


Come on baby, let’s do the revolution
£6 for the record, £7 for the T-shirt
A picture of the band
And a ticket for the Promised Land

Watching all the bouncers
Systematically beating up the dancers
To the rhythm of a pocket of change
Here’s the group with all the answers
Vote for the Party and
Keep your mouth shut!

Same chains of command
All the power taken out of our hands
Politics pays the piper
In this Company-Land

Come on baby, let’s do the revolution
They say we’ll all be equal
When they take control
Vote for the Party and
Wallow in our rock and roll

Roadie! My guitar!


Said the party to the ad-man
“We’ll conjure up a gimmick –
The way to lead an ass
Is with a carrot and a stick
Dig down for minorities
Promise them concessions
Ride in on their backs
And then teach them all a lessen:

  1. Unemployment means depression
  2. You’re just victims of the recession
  3. (We can count on their support
    If we channel their emotions).”

Populate the wasteland
Between leisure and the grace
Work and pray and place your vote
And some day you’ll be saved

All those myths come tailor-made
To suit the Company Director
Myths that praise the dignity
Of cheap, disposable labour
Two different routes
To an industrial heaven
Work for Boss and parliament
And all will be forgiven
It’s the fear of being sacked
That lets the Boss step up the face
Because the minute you step out of line
There’s someone took your place

Said the MP to the media:
“Can’t we juggle this around?
Sprinkle sugar on the dogshit
And we’ll keep the figures down
Never let the left hand
See what’s in the right
No-one’s any wiser
And the problem’s out of sight…”

Job Clubs, Restart, YTS, CP’s, EAS:
Take your democratic choice
Take a scheme or starve
Company profits doubled
Wages chopped in half

Offer your life to the one true Church:
In the name of the Conservative Party
The Labour Party
And the Liberal Alliance
The promised land where banks outnumber churches
And your cars shall be martyrs to the cause!

Capitalism in crisis…
But on the third day it shall rise again.


“Though they broke my legs,
They gave me a crutch to walk-
Laws to guide me
And a crutch to walk”


A visionary pause in the cycle
When she refused to buy or sell
When the daughters of perfect wives
Said there must be no more sacrifice…
Needed more than symbolic change
More than silent wasting away
In factories and sterile marriages
(He was God. She was powerless)

With a brick for every year of life
She set out for the house of lies
The Old Boys Club under siege
His Lordship cowered under his seat
Called for brandy and reinforcements
Blasted away at every movement.

Close to breaking down the door
Past thick blue line and stupid laws
Black Friday left her bruised and stubborn
One brick from winning the struggle!
Rapunzel hacked at the ivory tower
Asquith quickly rose to the hour…
Appealed to patriotism, oily smiles
Gave nothing, called it compromise.

Gauging the situation perfectly
Said, “Ladies! Ladies! Listen to me!
1914, we’re on the brink of war
Pick up a flag, drop your cause
Your targets are counter-revolutionary
Take my hand in democracy
Here’s a piece of paper
You’re officially free
Here’s a list of instructions
For you to obey;
(And here’s sharp knife
To cur your own throat
Small sacrifice in return for a vote…)”

Whispered word in Pankhurst’s ear.
Visions of the first woman peer
Led women down the garden path
And into the arms of the enemy
Jail and force-feeding, wasted martyrdom
Sold her songs for the National Anthem
Slotted the smile back neatly into place
Served refreshments
At the end of the race
All demands reduced to a joke
X marks the plague: abandon hope

Butlers still pouring brandy for the rich
“Escuse me,
Could you pass me the privilege?”
A woman’s voice, the state’s ideal
Same vested interests, same dirty deals
Currie & Williams immersed in the times:
Examples to keep the rest in line
Currie & Williams, two of a kind:
Examples to keep the rest in line.


Mr Heseltine you drove into our town
The northern rain always drizzling down
Shoppers at the window stopped so look
As you signed another copy of your book

You have all the power
And you have all the wealth
We’ve got nothing… but ourselves

So we’ll do away with leaders & bosses & police
Reclaim our actions, rediscover our voices
Salvage our integrity, reassert our dignity-
Power in the heart of the community!

Mr Heseltine listen to me:
We don’t want power
and we don’t want money
We’re fighting for the right to decide
How the power and the wealth
Be equally divided…
Old people in Seacroft
Need money for bills
Single mums with kids
Want decent meals
And we all want new coats,
When all’s said and done
They’re all worn out
From being walked upon

There comes a time when we organise
When we take control of our daily lives
When we don’t obey orders from authority
When we disbelieve me myths of Democracy.

Mr Heseltine drove away
Two more appointments in the north today
Helpless and powerless
We join the queue for the metro bus
And Mr Heseltine I’ve up my mind
I’ll never give support to you and your kind


“Full employment!
Slave labour and schemes!”
“An unemployed workforce
The capitalist’s dream!”
“But let’s keep Britain working
Either way we must keep Britain working

“Conventional weapons
To kill people nicely!”
“Nuclear weapons
To keep the peace!”
“But weapons definitely
Either way we must defend ourselves”

With one big boss!”
“No, privatisation
With lots of little bosses!”
“But someone in control of course
Either way there must be someone giving orders”

A toast to democracy
The poison guard of this society
Sides in the voting game
Disappear into the same machine…

A toast!
To US bosses and nuclear weapons
To stopping pickets pulling down fences
To Britith troops in Northern Ireland
To the wonderful victory in the Falklands
To the plastic bullet and the riot police
To the UDM and the TUC
To isolating gays and to law and order
To richer bosses and poorer workers
To longer hours and less pay
To the courts (for those who get in the way)
To the beating of people who step out of line
To the use of troops to break a strike
To the expulsion of extremists
To political witch hunts
To repatriation and to benefit cuts
To peaceful settlements
And no strike agreements
To authority, to power, to governments

To the annual rise in the MPs wage
To vested interests, to privilege
To the party who wins the next election
By definition a victory to capitalism!

The End


Why settle for what we’re shown
When there it so much more?
Sometimes the Book of Law
Is only half the story

Means and ends:
Deciding where to draw the line
Loss of work in Sellafield homes
Or the threat of cancers yet to come?

The choice is obvious:
There is no choice
Only the option of looking outside
This narrow definition of
“What you see is all there will ever be”

There comes a time -that time is now-
When every second, every day
When every action, every thought
Will tell the world how you cast your vote

They break our legs
And we say “Thank you” when they offer us crutches

Tired of mild reform
Sick of hand-me-downs
We topple all the theories to the ground:
All real change
Must come from below
Our bosses must live in fear
Of the factory floor
And when they smile
And they ask for my support,
I’ll give them these words
And a bloody nose:
You don’t help your enemy
When you’re at war

There are moments in all of our lives
Tiny sparks still deep inside
When a new-born baby cries
When you’re watching clouds in a summer sky
The first time you walked out on strike
Love and sex and holding tight
Things that can’t be bought
By promises and votes

I hate the things I love being criminalised
I hate the straight-jacket schools I grew up in
I hate MPs, judges and magistrates
I hate being taught to base my life on TV stars
I hate being kept waiting by bureaucrats
I hate wars, and all the people who love them
I hate the idea of living on other people’s backs
I hate being filed, registered and classified
I hate being watched and monitored
I hate police
I hate the way you talk down to me
I hate being told what to do
I hate you when you don’t listen
I hate the way you distort my sexuality with pornography
I hate the pain we inflict on each other,
On animals, and on the earth,
And I hate how love songs have become clichés
through endless, shallow repetition

Each angry word
Every cynical put-down
Every song in carefully born
From a hope of something better to come

All jumbled-up
Love and hate and love
Each prompted by the other:
For the cause of peace we have to go to war

Refusing to sleep
Whilst there’s a world to win
Yet happy to dream
Dreams make the plans to change this world

Not just some future heaven
But today and every day
In our place of work
In the queue for the metrobus

Here’s the rest of our lives!

…A tiny spark still deep inside

We can and will run the factories and mills
We can and will educate ourselves
We can and will work the fields
We can and will police ourselves

We can and will create and build

Here’s the rest of our lives!

Written, produced and presented by Chumbawamba

Chumbawamba on this recording are:

Lou: Vocals, guitar
Harry: Drums, percussion, vocals
Mavis Dillon: Bass guitar, trumpet, vocals
Alice Nutter: Vocals
Danbert Nobacon: Vocals
Boff: Guitar, vocals
Dunst: Vocals
Simon: Keyboards, voice
Neil: Engineer, keyboards
Patrick: Engineer

Recorded at Woodlands
April/May 1987

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