Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Imagine the Books She Might Yet Have Written

TWO items, one amusing, one sad. Let's start with the lighter side. It might be just paper talk, but Euan Blair, the son of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, reportedly fancies standing for Parliament himself, and is setting his sights on Bootle, on Merseyside, regarded as one of Labour's safest seats for the next general election.

Joe Benton, the sitting MP who has represented the constituency for 24 years, is 81, and though he has said he intends standing again in 2015, there is a move in the local party to deselect him and find a younger replacement. That sounds reasonable. But Euan Blair?

The Liverpool Echo reports there are rumours, though it also quotes an unnamed Labour source as saying: “There’s no way Labour is going to lose Bootle, but the idea of parachuting someone like Euan Blair in would be a disaster, a joke."

The joke comes as Blair senior has been boasting how proud he is of going to war on Iraq, and making a new claim to replace his old Weapons of Mass Destruction story, this time saying he saved Iraqis from a war like that in Syria.  Around Falluja, where people still suffering the effects of Blair and Bush's war have been fleeing bombardment by the Iraqi government they left, they may not be forthcoming with gratitude to Mr.Blair for saving them from anything.

I must admit I haven't followed young Euan's career until now.  It was not his fault who his Dad was, nor that he was sent to a posh school instead of the local comp. When it was reported that he'd been found lying drunk in Leicester Square, that was not as bad as his father's lying in office, though if he had not been at the posh boys' school he might have had the kind of mates who found him a cab home instead of running off leaving him there.

Anyway, years go by, and at 29, Euan has worked for merchant bankers Morgan Stanley, he is married, and he and the missus have moved into a six bedroom Georgian town house in Marylebone with a price tag of £3.6million. But as with his student days and bachelorhood, Mum Cherie the barrister and QC still helps out with housing. "The new Mrs Blair is not the Mrs Blair listed on the property deeds. Land Registry documents have revealed the six-bedroom Georgian town house in Marylebone is joint owned by Euan and his mother Cherie Blair".


If young Mr.Blair has opinions of his own about the Iraq war or anything else he seems to have kept them to himself so far, but there may have been a clue otherwise at the wedding.

The bride's step mother, weather woman Sian Lloyd, was not invited, and she guesses it was because she was against the war. 

Cherie Blair grew up in Waterloo just up the road from Bootle, and this is being touted as Euan's connection with the constituency, though local left-wingers wonder what he knows about conditions in the constituency or what experience he has campaigning on issues like jobs or housing. To be fair, Euan Blair did a bit of political work when he was in the States. For the Republicans.

Anyway, Labour's selection procedure is under way, and we'll know whom they have chosen by May 30.

And now to the sad news. Author Sue Townsend, best known as the creator of troubled teenager and sensitive though aspiring yuppie Adrian Mole, has died aged 68, on April 10, in her home town Leicester. She had been ill for some time, and had been dictating her work to her son after suffering blindness as a result of diabetes.

Sue Townsend came from a working class background and had known poverty first hand, and though she found her metier poking fun at the Thatcher years and after in her humorous writing, she was serious in her political views. In a 2009 Guardian interview with Alex Clark, she described herself as a "passionate socialist" who had no time for New Labour. "I support the memory and the history of the party and I consider that these lot are interlopers", she told Clark.

Her views on the Welfare State, and the way it was coming under attack without having yet fulfilled its purpose, were beautifully expressed in a set of essays, drawn both from experience and keen observation, and published as Mr.Bevan's Dream. (Chatto and Windus, Counterblasts, 1989) Her ideas were considered worthy of an intellectual analysis by Jurgen Willems, which can be read on line.  His study makes thoughtful reading, though for pleasure I'd re-read Sue Townsend's little book.

Sue Townsend was also a no-nonsense republican (not the kind Euan and his Dad worked with) and  in The Queen and I  she imagines Her Majesty transferred from Buck House to a council house in Leicester. Helen, a friend in the Labour Representation Committee who unlike me had the pleasure of meeting the author recalls:
 "I saw ST during an English day I had to go on during A Levels and she related the story of her own poverty i.e. having no money left due to non-arrival of giro and how she was reduced to asking the benefits officer if he could lend her a fiver - this is also what happpens to the fictional Queen in the Queen and I. It should be essential reading for the Osbornes of this world.
Also when I was an English  teaching assistant in Germany in the nineties I did the Adrian Mole books with my sixth formers and as well as laughing (just to prove Germans do have a sense of humour!), they seemed to get the image of Thatcherite Britain Sue Townsend created and could discuss how it could be changed. R.I.P. Sue.

In one of the Adrian Mole books - it may have been Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction - her eponymous hero writes to Tony Blair asking about a refund for having cancelled a holiday in Cyprus believing what the PM said about being in range of Iraqi missiles. That was Sue Townsend's way of bringing things down to earth, and it was a way of speaking a true word in jest.
Here is what she said in person, and not through her fictional character:
    'In the build-up to the Iraq war I lost the ability to read due to diabetic retinopathy. Instead I became a close listener. I heard Blair distort and manipulate the English language so that, like Humpty Dumpty in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, for him a word "means just what I choose it to mean".

    The phrase "weapons of mass destruction" was ubiquitous. You knew he was talking it up. He had been given a grain of sand by the intelligence services and didn't stop talking it up until it was a boulder, hurtling, Tom and Jerry-like, down a mountain, flattening everything in its path.

    I wept tears of shame, rage, and pity as British and American planes dropped their "strategic" bombs over Baghdad. I wondered if Blair was sitting on a sofa with his family watching shock and awe. Did they share a monster bag of Revels, and could he look his children in the eye when the transmission was over? I have never recovered from the shock of that night.

    I have been told my fixation with Blair and his involvement with the invasion of Iraq is unhealthy – "that was all back in the day", get over it, "move forward". But I can't. I am a professional cynic, or sceptic if you prefer, but deep inside I romanticised the qualities of this country and its government. We had a reputation in the world for the moderation of our political system, the fairness of our judiciary, and, whether entitled to or not, we marched up the hill and built a fortress on the moral high ground. That lies in ruins now.'

    Sue Townsend, writing in September 2010


 (thanks to another LRC comrade, Mike Phipps, for bringing my attention to that).

I don't suppose it is a joke to the people of Bootle, least of all the local Labour Party members, if they should really find themselves saddled with Euan Blair as their candidate or MP.

Sadder still, we no longer have the genius who invented Adrian Mole, socialist and humourist Sue Townsend, who would have been able to write about it. 


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At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Sue Katz said...

Thanks for both halves of this posting. You are my favorite source of clarity on so much happening in Britain, Charlie.


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