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There'll Always Be An England

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Anthony Blond, London, 1984
(price: 8.95; 372 pages)

dedication: For Stephen Haseler, Roger Fox and Elspeth Cochrane

The blurb on the back:

David Pinner's novel is a portrait of England today. It centres on the conflict between two men. On the right, Roy Hampton MP, for Lamberton North, on the left, Terry McMasters chairman of the local Labour Party determined to replace him. Roy has other problems too. The lure of his ex-mistress Helen, threatens his marriage, their daughter Alexa makes herself up like the witch of Endor, his son Sebastian has withdrawn from his father in favour of his A levels. His best friend and supporter in the Party turns out to have his fingers in the till. Roy is drinking and smoking too much even for a harassed right wing Labour MP. Terry McMasters, a lean, hungry and attractive young man, is resolutely unemployed so that he can dedicate himself to engineering the coming revolution. This will level all England and turn this island into a siege economy run on the principles so clearly laid down by his heroes, Marx, Trotsky and Lenin.

David Pinner was originally an actor (he starred in The Mousetrap) before becoming a writer, principally of stage-plays such as Lenin In Love and Potsdam Quartet. He also, however, wrote the novel Ritual, which became the legendary film The Wicker Man in 1973 with a script by Anthony Shaffer, and this curio from the 1980s. I don't know anythng about his politics but I suspect he's a traditionalist Labour man, since the temporary (as they turned out) successes of Tony Benn in the Labour Party of the early-1980s clearly scared the Bejesus out of him.

The whole of this novel is a diatribe against Trotskyist infiltration into the Labour Party and the inability or unwillingness of mainstream Labour to defend itself. The protagonists - old-school MP Roy Hampton, and Militantesque Terry McMasters - exist as mouthpieces for political positions rather than characters, and the same is true of just about everyone else in the book. This, for example, is Hampton's ex-girlfriend engaged in dinner conversation with a clergyman who makes the mistake of saying that Marxism and Christianity have a lot in common; she's explaining where he's gone wrong:

'For instance, Marx wrote an article called On The Jewish Question, which reminds me of another "great" German's credo. For in this particular article Marx affirmed: "What is the secular basis of Judaism? Self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. We recognise in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time." And the Great Man ended his particular tirade with a sentiment which would have done credit to Hitler and Stalin, who as you know, Vicar, were both dedicated anti-Semites. For Marx proclaimed: "Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism - huckstering and its preconditions - the Jew will have become impossible!"' (pp.78-79)

I obviously don't get out enough, 'cos no one talks like that at any dinner party I go to. Anyway, after a couple more drinks, she makes her - and the book's - position perfectly clear:

'...although I would be the first to admit that Thatcher's authoritarian right-wing Toryism is potentially dangerous, it's the totalitarian left wing of the Labour Party which is the greater threat to the continuance of our democracy. If the hard left ever come to power in this country, which they may well do in the next ten years or so, they will be much harder to remove from office than Mrs Thatcher's present administration.' (p.82)

Of course, it turned out we didn't need to worry. The hard left was so damn unpopular that it couldn't even have got elected in 1997. But if you want to revisit the nightmares Tony Benn inspired in the 1980s - before he became the venerable old democrat that we pretend he is today - then this is just the book for you.

David Pinner
David Pinner