I’ve just emerged from another Sunday morning appointment with the politicians on the TV, accompanied by my only real constant each week, a plate of the kippers that do get my vote (and maintain consistently his satisfaction levels). This week, we really are in the thick of it with the Tory leadership contest, the revelations from Michael Gove about past cocaine use, and trying to come to terms with the very real possibility that Boris Johnson could be our next Prime Minister.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, this particular broadcaster served up interviews with Esther McVey and Barry Gardiner, and seriously expected viewers to swallow the proposition that Gove taking cocaine in his 30s could somehow be explained away by him as a ‘mistake’? The words he was using were somehow expecting us to accept the ‘line’ that it happened when he was ‘very young’ – and that that it was a ‘mistake’ (surely, using it in error when he thought it was salt would have been a ‘mistake’?). Surely his cocaine use was a deliberate choice of a mature man, not a mistake?
I am in total agreement with the position Gove is asking to take – for second chances. I am a big supporter of drugs reform. But he is expecting us to swallow this, when at the exact same time as he was partaking, he was advocating opposite positions. Politics is nothing if it is not personal not virtual, and watching the dreadful circus performance that is politics today, served up by the likes of McVey, Gardiner and Gove, it is no wonder we have the rise of the likes of the Brexit Party. I support ‘Remain’ to my core. To watch these pantomime moves makes my insides groan, and I see how populism is being fuelled.
We’ve arrived at an extremely opportune moment for me to post a few words about a book I read earlier this year.
I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered “Perfidious Albion” by Sam Byers (2018), [London: Faber & Faber] was on the shelves of my local Hampshire Library in Yateley, and took it as a sign that there is a fellow traveller somewhere on the ‘inside’. This book, while a work of fiction, is one of the most effective bits of help I’ve discovered in our common struggle to resist – to help make some kind of understanding of what the hell is going on in the world right now!
As Anthony Cummins argues in his Guardian review, it is a book which turns on the question of where “real power” lies. As we find ourselves forever mired in the pebble-dashing of politics by Brexit, Trump, and syrup-of-figs social media pours on the experience, the book leaves no stone unturned, whether media; politics; ‘place’; class; technology; generational divides – what it means to be ‘human’ – and around every corner provides shuddering parallels with those circus headlines in the news each day.
Indeed, while I was reading the book, one sorry Conservative MP mis-used the title of the book in an EU-bashing speech he was giving, piling grotesqueness upon absurdity.
The book was published well before the BBC’s ‘Years and Years‘ series, and after ‘Black Mirror‘, and essentially deals with similar themes, but offers more penetrating insights, together with a great storyline. With what happens with every twist of the real news agenda – whether it’s the number of MPs running for the Conservative Party leadership, and admissions of cocaine-taking apparently counting in their favour; or former Loaded magazine journalists winning election to the European Parliament; or world statesmen lying on-the-record, and then lying about those lies – this book helps provide some solidarity in the struggle to understand. In that respect, it is the best companion I have found, alongside Marina Hyde‘s weekly column’s in the Guardian, and Cold War Steve‘s photo collages.
As Justine Jordan puts in in her Guardian review, it is about the “power of global corporations and the rise of the right”, scrutinising current anxieties. It is “both a rollicking farce of political exhaustion and social collapse, and a subtle investigation into the slippery, ever-evolving relationship between words and deeds”.
In my own town, I’m seeing the closure of the the last high street bank, and there’s rumours of a threat to the Post Office too. As well as our political parties being hollowed out, and the denigration of local services, just look at every other kind of institution, and our ability, whether as consumers or citizens to have any real relationship with them. From our favourite football clubs, to our utility companies. And all the while, public discourse is reduced to something ridiculously binary or banal.
“This is the level at which Brexit infects the book: as a nebulous anxiety about the approaching future, “so rapid in its occurrence and uncertain in its shape”. Byers dedicates a great deal of time to pricking the self-regarding pretensions of the commentariat, still babbling away when, as Jess puts it, “all the while, outside, in the world they claimed both to consider and depict, events were occurring that shrunk their fears to irrelevance”. They are an easy target, but perhaps that’s the point.”
‘Perfidious Albion‘ felt too real too me. I’ve pulled back from being embroiled on Twitter, and have certainly recoiled from what Facebook appears to be doing to public discourse. I’m trying to spend more time out and about where I live with real people, and trying to understand what it means to be human, and about how power works. Our political parties appear to have given up trying to do that some time ago, with democracy instead being seen as the equivalent to ‘Bandersnatch‘ for politics.
If you haven’t read it yet, you must read ‘Perfidious Albion‘. Much more fruitful than being sucked into the fringe festival on social media to that political circus main event.