Book review: Things Can Only Get Worse? by John O’Farrell

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Things Can Only Get Worse? Twenty Confusing Years In The Life Of A Labour Supporter by John O’Farrell, Published by: Doubleday

In 1998, John O’Farrell published, Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997. It was an enjoyable and genuinely funny political memoir detailing O’Farrell’s life from his teenage defeat as Labour candidate in his school’s 1979 mock election to the happy ending of the New Labour landslide in 1997. Eighteen years is a long time: by 1997, O’Farrell was well into his thirties, balding, married with children and thanks to his work on the likes of Spitting Image and Radio 4’s Weekending, an established comedy writer.

The book was a big hit. But now twenty years have passed again since Blair’s first big win and the story of that period as related in this sequel is rather more complex.

On the one hand, New Labour won yet another landslide in 2001 and a third big win in 2005. The Tories have never really recovered from their 1997 trouncing, winning only one small majority in any of the last six General Elections. And as O’Farrell says, things undeniably got better under Labour, with the government “writing off the debt of the world’s poorest countries…transforming the NHS by trebling health spending and massively reducing waiting lists…the minimum wage, and pensioners getting free TV licences and the winter fuel allowance…peace in Northern Ireland… equality for the gay community…all the new schools…free entry to museums and galleries…” The list goes on (and on).

John O'Farrell, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Eastleigh

On the other hand, as O’Farrell admits, there are certainly grounds for pessimism. O’Farrell often felt conflicted defending the Blair Government as a Guardian columnist in the early 2000s particularly after Iraq. He had a bit of a laugh campaigning as the Labour candidate for the hopelessly Tory seat of Maidenhead in the 2001 second Labour landslide election running against an unimpressive Opposition frontbencher called Theresa May. But the disintegration of Labour under Brown and Miliband was hardly a joy to behold for him or anyone else who backed Labour. O’Farrell’s candidature in the 2013 Eastleigh by-election in which he came fourth, was less fun too with the Tory tabloids attacking him with out of context quotes from his first book. By 2016, with O’Farrell despairing of the Jeremy Corbyn leadership, the Brexit result and the election of Donald Trump, the celebrations of victory night in May 1997 start to seem like a very long time ago indeed.

Thankfully, O’Farrell is always a funny writer, remaining upbeat even as when for others, things would only get bitter.

After all, even at their worst, Labour have never been as bad as the Tories. Yes, the Tories: a party who supported the Iraq War far more enthusiastically than Labour did (and indeed, whose support ensured it happened), a party who fiercely upheld Labour’s spending plans at the time (rightly) only to attack them endlessly (and wrongly) later, a party whose membership enthusiastically chose Jeffery Archer as its choice for London mayor and Iain Duncan Smith as their party leader.

This is an excellent book. And thanks to Theresa May’s calamitous General Election miscalculation, it even has a happy ending.

Sort of.

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Dear Nigel Farage…

 

 

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Well done Nigel Farage. You have fooled some of the people all of the time so far. But, in future, you might want to remember the following things…

Some people argue Ed Miliband looks bad on TV but frankly he looks like Brad Pitt next to most of UKIP’s motley crew. Seriously, are you the only one who really supports UKIP or do no vaguely normal looking UKIP supporters actually exist?

Stop pretending to be a victim

You claimed victory for UKIP at the weekend despite “everyone being against us”. This is total nonsense. UKIP received a hugely disproportionate amount of media coverage and could hardly have received a more favourable treatment from TV, radio and the press. Like many on the Right, such as the BNP, you like to pretend you are part of an unfairly persecuted minority. You are not.

Stop pretending to be a rebel

You often speak of the “elitist establishment” as if you are not somehow not part of it. In fact, as a public school educated ex-stockbroker, you are about as establishment as you can get. Indeed, you are exactly the sort of person who caused the recession in the first place. You will not be able to carry this off much longer.

Answer questions properly

So far, your typical response to tricky questions has been to:

a)      laugh them off,

b)      deny that certain controversial policies are in your manifesto,

c)        pretend you don’t know what’s in your manifesto

d)      claim you don’t have a manifesto.

Some people find this refreshing. It’s increasingly looking amateurish.

Expect tougher questions

On BBC Question Time recently, you laughed off questions about UKIP members’ expenses claims by saying you weren’t going to take any advice from the Tories on it. In fact, UKIP’s record is far worse than the Tories on this. Yet you got off the hook. This won’t always be the case. Remember when Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson humiliated you on TV on separate occasions recently? Expect more of this.

People aren’t that fussed about the EU either way

True, most polls show most people want to leave the EU. But it is way down the list of priorities. Frankly, the issue bores most people. David Cameron doesn’t seem to have realised this either. People voted for you primarily because they wanted to rebel against the main parties. The Lib Dems no longer fulfil this function.

Some people do want to leave the EU, yes. And some people who voted for you were racist. But more than half of UKIP voters from last week have already indicated they won’t vote UKIP in the General Election next year.

So it seems then, this is your peak. Like the SDP in 1981. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Book review Revolt On The Right by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin

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Revolt On The Right: Explaining Support For The Radical Right In Britain

Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin

Published by: Routledge

It’s official: the right wing really are revolting.

Once upon a time, it was the Left who were most effective at endlessly shooting themselves in the foot in this way. In 1983, for example, the combined Labour/SDP alliance vote in the General Election was almost 68%. However, as these parties were a) not working together and b) hampered by the first past the post system, the end result was actually the biggest ever post-war win for Mrs. Thatcher’s Tories and a majority of 144.

Little wonder then, that there was plenty of ambitious talk at the time of the Millennium of this being “the progressive century” with Lib Dems and New Labour working together.

How dated such talk looks now! For now, it is the Right who are split. Under normal circumstances, one would expect a moderate Tory leader like Cameron presiding over an economic recovery and facing an unpopular Labour leader, one would be expecting the Tories to be cruising to an easy win similar to Sir Anthony Eden in 1955.

This isn’t happening. Current polls give Labour a smallish poll lead of about 4%. This isn’t huge but would give Miliband a win on a similar scale to Tony Blair’s third victory in 2005. This is partly due to the outdated boundary system which currently favours Labour (the Tories would actually need to be several points ahead of Labour even to get the same number of seats as them).

It’s also largely down to UKIP, currently in third place and polling somewhere between 11 and 15%.

Ford and Goodwin’s book is good on the twenty year history of UKIP. Mired by division and infighting, they briefly threatened to become significant a decade ago before the support of has-been daytime TV personality Robert Kilroy Silk descended into a bitter  and acrimonious power struggle. With much of UKIP support coming from a similar uneducated elderly working class base, the BNP also threatened to eclipse them before Nick Griffin’s party effectively imploded at the end of the last decade.

The leadership of Nigel Farage, a man who somehow manages to be both posh and blokey at the same time, has generally been a boon to the party, gaffe prone though they remain. I am not at all convinced that much UKIP support comes from disillusioned Labour supporters. People who want to leave the EU or who are preoccupied by immigration haven’t generally been supporting Labour for a long time now, if ever. Such people before were either BNP supporters or Tories.

Much of UKIP’s support is based on ignorance. “In the days of Clement Attlee,” UKIP spokesman Paul Nuttall argues,”the Labour MPs came from the mills, the mines and the factories. The Labour MPs today… they go to private school, they go to Oxbridge… and they become an MP.”(P136). This is palpably nonsense. Clement Attlee himself went to a public school and to Oxford. For all that it matters, a large number of Labour MPs have always come from privileged backgrounds. There is also a nasty side to the party who, in the words of one UKIP activist appeal to those who (supposedly) “lost their job in the pub because of a nice looking girl from Slovakia” (P96).

But let’s not be too harsh. If UKIP succeed as they seem to be doing in denying the Tories a parliamentary majority next year, they will undoubtedly have (quite unintentionally) done this nation a great service.

A song for UKIP

(Actually, more of a poem than a song…)

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Right wing chumps of the world unite!

It’s time to take a stand and fight,

It’s time to desert the sinking ship,

Leave the Tories: join UKIP!

Follow your heart and not your head,

Maggie would back us (were she not dead,)

Listen to the Mail, Telegraph and Express,

Say no to EU bureaucracy and excess!

Are you racist to a small degree?

We’re less scary than the BNP!

If the PC liberals had their way,

Everyone in the world would be gay.

The EU is far too large.

Vote for an Englishman named Farage.

Join the UKIP throng as we march today,

Towards a glorious yesterday!

The rest of us on Planet Earth,

Should cheer on UKIP for all our worth,

For like in 1983,

They’re splitters like the SDP.

For Farage and his doltish band,

Are giving Labour a helping hand,

The bigger the split grows on the Right,

The better things look on election night.

So if you are a lefty liberal type like me,

And value the NHS and BBC,

And don’t blame the poor for being poor,

Or lay all our ills at the immigrant’s door.

If you don’t want to make life a misery,

For the poorest and weakest in society,

Then pray that UKIP win some seats,

And help Labour into Downing Street.

Chris Hallam.

Why I love UKIP

Nigel Farage smilingDo you feel the main problem with the government is that it’s too wishy washy? Are you a little bit racist but not quite enough to join the BNP?  Do you have little interest in politics beyond a vague notion that leaving the European Union would somehow benefit the UK?

If so, then UKIP is the party for you!

It’s easy to mock. But it’s hard not to feel the latest UKIP “surge” would be a tad more convincing if: a) they had actually won a single parliamentary seat. Even the SDP won some by elections you know!

b) If they actually had any ideas beyond withdrawing from the EU and

c) the most likely outcome of any rise in their support was not to split the Tory vote and help Labour.

So…er, why am I even attacking them? Good point!

Hurrah for UKIP and Nigel Farage!

VOTE UKIP:  FOR A LABOUR GOVERNMENT TOMORROW!