Writing And More - A Blog by Alan Devey
My novel The Gestalt Switch was published last October. It concerns a bitter and prejudiced Englishman in his sixties who ignores all other crises, both personal and political, to focus on Britain’s departure from the European Union. My protagonist will back any politician who promises to achieve that aim, no matter the cost to his well-being or those close to him. A month or two later Boris Johnson (aka. The Feckless Sex Yeti) was elected Prime Minister, having run a campaign that appealed to men exactly like my central character; a policy agenda effectively amounting to three meaningless words, repeated again and again (‘Get Brexit Done’). It worked, of course.
I don’t claim to have any great clairvoyance on this. Just look to the US, Brazil; here and elsewhere, all those countries where what is commonly known as ‘the Trump Playbook’ has been deployed. This usually results in the very worst elements of humanity ascending to the highest office in a land. Combine that with the United Kingdom’s hierarchy of entrenched privilege to mean that two boys from the same year in Eton, known back then for their avowed intent to become Prime Minister one day, have both achieved that goal. With the help of our awful establishment, billionaire backers and the support of autocrats worldwide, David Cameron and Boris Johnson both attained an ambition they first vocalised as entitled adolescents. While Cameron is now seen as the amoral incompetent he turned out to be; one of the worst Prime Ministers our nation has seen with no one daring to defend his track record of professional failure and economic murder, this year the Feckless Sex Yeti is already threatening to put his predecessor’s (lack of) achievements in the shade.
A clinical diagnosis of narcissism describes someone who displays a combination of superficial charm, the ongoing need for adulation, perpetual dishonesty and regular infidelities. Does that sound like anyone we know? And yet the moment anyone different from this comes along, with genuine qualities needed for the top political job like consistency, integrity, humility, the facility for long-term planning and an avowed intent to put into action large-scale, progressive policies, all aimed at tackling the big issues facing our planet, well, we’ve seen how the right-wing and liberal media destroy them without mercy. It comes simply for having the temerity to suggest the rich should pay their fair share; for promoting peace over war while asserting everyone is entitled to equal rights and opportunities, not just ageing Caucasians. It seems our nation isn’t ready for someone like that to lead us. Perhaps we never will be.
Now we must expect the kind of voter suppression Republicans have gerrymandered so successfully in the US, the redrawing of constituencies and other underhand tactics, all designed to ensure the Conservatives never again go without a majority in our increasingly rigged political system. In truth, such anti-democratic measures aren’t strictly necessary for the selfish right to cling to power across England and Wales. Within a First Past the Post electoral system, all political reactionaries need is the combined vote of a certain demographic in very specific areas. Less than one-fifth of those who were eligible to vote in the 2019 election actively cast their ballot for the Feckless Sex Yeti’s nativist posturing; fewer than fourteen million out of seventy-one million potential voters across the UK. By targeting a voter profile ruthlessly, as Donald Trump and Dominic Cummings know only too well, a small portion of the electorate can hand power to you indefinitely.
Had under-45s been the only group voting, in some kind of strange Logan’s Run-style experiment, our opposition party would have been swept to power in a real landslide. But once again we encounter the big problem in a democratic system. To quote Doug Stanhope: Old Fucks Vote. And while there are plenty of older people who will back progressive or ‘moderate’ political parties, they have tended not to reside in the north of England or those rural Welsh seats which brought the FSY to power. With most of the young escaping such places for the bright lights and improved economic opportunities of the city, our abandoned towns and villages are left populated by those who have experienced decades of the problems the Feckless Sex Yeti exploited: deindustrialisation, economic collapse, the lack of immediate hope or long-term prospects. The proportion of over-65s who voted Conservative in 2019 was utterly unprecedented, men and women like my aunt who would never dream of damaging the prospects of our nation’s young people individually – they have much-loved grandchildren, after all. But collectively, it appears just fine to let our future go all to hell. Why should those voters who won’t be alive much longer give a damn if a far-off part of this planet is on fire? Or that Brexit will hurt the economy, further down the line? Or that generations born in the eighties and nineties can barely afford a roof over their heads? What's important to them appears to be rather xenophobia, nationalism and revenge.
Maybe that’s a little unfair. I’m sure older white people were voting for something they believed to be positive, just as they did in the 2016 referendum. But the reason they think this, in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, surely needs to be interrogated. For decades anti-EU sentiment has proliferated across our print media, much of it initiated by the Feckless Sex Yeti when trying to make a name for himself in journalism, near the start of his career. These falsehoods were subsequently midwifed by Murdoch and nurtured by the right-wing press who employed a steady drip of anti-EU misinformation and outright lies. The generation that dictated the outcome of the election continues to obtain its news from a mixture of the BBC and other partisan channels, along with daily papers like the Times or Telegraph; tabloids including the Mail, Express and Sun. We endure the least truthful press in Western Europe, and with Cameron abandoning the Leveson recommendations their papers have free reign to spread their mendacity, prejudice and bile against the vulnerable (along with those on the left who try to relieve their suffering). If you’re a reasonably well-informed individual who picks up one of these rags you’ll soon wonder at stumbling into a strange parallel universe, one barely acknowledging a worldview that isn’t the sole preserve of retired colonels or thundering bigots.
Such lies are insidious and prevalent and they were used to demonise the leader of the Labour party on a daily basis for years. Our press will no doubt observe a similar modus operandi against the next progressive leader of a major party, simply for threatening the neoliberal status quo. The propaganda exists to convey the belief, fostered by Thatcher originally, that all aspects of society should be stripped away or sold off. The welfare safety net must be removed, because anyone who gets into difficulty only has themselves to blame; they should have been born into a wealthier family. Propaganda preys on the minds of those who haven’t studied the media, readers unaware how they’re being manipulated into following the orders of billionaire press barons and the 1%. When it comes to social media, many over-50s simply aren’t familiar with the way Facebook operates either, so they swallow every right-wing meme dumped on their feeds in the days running up to a ballot then end up voting against their own best interests because they’re so badly informed: “Free dental check-ups and superfast Broadband along with a reduction in your water bill, sir?”, “No thanks, I’d prefer to live in penury while my teeth rot and eat cold shit instead.” Yes, very clever campaigns, funded by Russia and tax avoiding corporations, know how to make ordinary folk do exactly what the rich want them to, especially when the majority of people have so many other things occupying their minds.
Friends out canvassing for Labour beyond the major population centres reported how, whenever a white male over fifty answered the door, they knew exactly what was coming. The ensuing vitriol would replicate familiar smears and slurs; a barrage of insults flung their way against a well-meaning pacifist. This combined with their unequivocal backing for the Feckless Sex Yeti’s Brexit position (whatever that turns out to be) culminated in another victory for the disaster capitalists. It was secured on the basis that leaving the EU is somehow more important than poverty or the decimation of public services or homes at risk of flooding or the future of the NHS so many of these older men (and women) rely on. How on earth did this happen? Well, it isn’t particularly difficult to grasp. Dominic Cummings, for one, saw the wider situation clearly enough to exploit it. Older people in the regions were angry, and there are multiple reasons for this, all of them skewed but understandable. I’ll highlight a few now that stand out for me.
The most obvious is that, for forty years, these communities have been ignored. Thatcher, Blair then Cameron chose to focus on financial centres and the service sector, allowing places like my father’s hometown to hit rack, ruin and despair. The heavy industry there (in this case, a coal mine) was shut down with nothing to replace it that might have generated secure jobs. Secondly, many within these generations are infuriated by Britain’s reduced status in the world, post-Empire. They’re angry at being forced to accept their ancestral home is a none-too-significant island nation that no longer accrues economic gain by exploiting its colonies. Then there are the negative impacts on the individual wrought by globalisation, combining with previously-marginalised groups being brought into the national conversation. Perceived competition arises from the modern gestures toward equality of opportunity, initiatives aimed at giving people of colour, women and those from an ‘underprivileged background’ like me a genuine stake in society. Many cannot stand to listen to voices that have traditionally been inaudible across our national project and my experience is that only those who have never been marginalised object to such progress; the challenging of the special status they’ve enjoyed for so long; the traditional prioritisation of white, English males that is now perceived to be at risk. Such an over-inflated sense of self-importance lingers on in a particular type of Englishman, another matter I touch on in The Gestalt Switch, along with my final point. That is, as we grow older, the dreams we once had curdle and deliquesce, forced out by disappointment, depression, melancholy, nostalgia for the lost possibilities of youth and the continuing emergence of new medical conditions and other painful ailments.
Taken together these strands have generated enormous bitterness in the bulk of those living through late middle age and beyond in Britain today. Successful politicians can now channel this fury against easy targets, whether they be immigrants, Remainers, Muslims, socialists, vegans, millennials or ‘the politically correct’ (who are really just people managing to be civil towards those who are different from them). There’s always someone so make your choice, use that mainstream platform and the establishment media to amplify your dog whistle, channel the existing hostility toward those who have little power in our society. This is one of the oldest tricks and if, like Dr Goebbels, you can utilise propaganda to fool enough citizens into believing everything that's wrong comes down to a minority; benefit claimants say, or foreigners, then promise a future free from this demonised group, the votes will roll in. Never mind our country needs both specialist and casual labour from overseas in order to function economically, or that studies show those who are most anti-immigrant are the same ones who have rarely met anyone from abroad. That simply means sheltered bigots will be unlikely to notice when those economic migrants from the EU that used to pick our fruit and wrap pigs in blankets are replaced by South Americans or Asians instead.
Yes, the elderly fell for a veritable picnic hamper of untruths and maybe they’ll be entitled to our pity once realisation dawns ‘Brexit’ can’t magically get done in a month, or perhaps later, on seeing their lives fail to improve in any measurable way once our nation is out of the EU. But somehow I doubt it. Voters will probably be distracted by some fresh injection of hate, whipped up against new targets. Meanwhile the Feckless Sex Yeti quietly colludes with state broadcasters to remove media coverage of his terrible trade deals and the deteriorating state of the economy. One of the things the FSY is most adept at is the evasion of scrutiny, as we know from his refusal to be interviewed and willingness to run away from the cameras into a nearby fridge. Having read Sonia Purnell’s excellent biography ‘Just Boris’ and observed his behaviour up close for years while the FSY was Mayor of London (I worked at Transport for London, effectively under his jurisdiction), I think I have reasonable insights into the man’s character. Better than those who have only started paying attention since he ascended to the highest office, anyway.
First the good news. I don’t believe the Feckless Sex Yeti is a fascist or racist, not really. The word ‘fascist’ tends to be bandied around toward anyone who disagrees with the left and, when it comes to bigotry, it's easy to distinguish the FSY from Donald Trump (for example) who, by any measurable metric, is clearly a massive racist. I believe our current Prime Minister writes (and says) racist things in order to appeal to nativists and gain their backing, a trait that may actually be worse than Trump’s instinctual racism. Certainly it's more cynical. Meanwhile the accusations of fascism are a by-product of the way the Feckless Sex Yeti tells everyone what they want to hear in order to get what he wants. And what he wants is power; influence; adulation; any chance to further the ‘Boris’ brand. Those ideological stances the FSY has displayed in the past were swiftly discarded once they no longer proved to be to his advantage. As everyone from newspaper editors to his fellow Tories, from ex-partners to his countless illegitimate children have discovered, here is a man with truly ‘flexible’ morals and an easily-modified worldview. He is the ultimate opportunist.
This isn’t a great trait for someone charged with running a country. But perhaps the worst aspect of the Feckless Sex Yeti’s nature, beyond that scandal-courting priapism, the inability to grasp detail and an overwhelming hubris which wouldn’t be out of place in a Shakespeare play (if Shakespeare wrote tragi-comic-slapstick) is his utter irresponsibility. You see it in the decision to front an anti-EU movement he clearly didn’t believe in, because it was the best way to elevate his own career. You see it in the unbelievable mess and heartache the likes of Petronella Wyatt and his estranged wife have endured as the FSY follows his cock into new scrapes. Finally, you see it in the FSY’s courting of bigots while pretending the nationwide increase in hate crime that accompanied his victory had nothing to do with following Donald Trump down the path toward white supremacism. The consequences of the FSY’s actions have always left a mess for others to clean up, and after five years in government he's likely to leave future generations with a whole lot more of that mess.
That said, and once again like a villain in Shakespeare, I can’t help but feel that the Feckless Sex Yeti’s character holds the seeds to his own downfall. His big electoral promise was to amputate in short order an issue everyone was sick of, something that's likely to prove impossible without full-blown media and political suppression. However much the FSY might skate over reality or ban the word ‘Brexit’ from public discourse in a truly Orwellian move, it will be an ongoing problem for decades. Combine that with the flaring up of the Irish issue and Scotland agitating for independence, our country’s awful economic prospects and looming price rises, the scandal that has swirled around his life ramping up with the Arcuri investigation, an unreleased report on Russian influence, allegations of postal vote malpractice and, no doubt, many other ‘missteps’, and you have to acknowledge that, strategically, the Feckless Sex Yeti is what my dear, departed grandmother would have called: “a fucking idiot”. We know there will be repercussions from turning what was once a centre-right party into a nativist hotbed through purges and divisive rhetoric, we see it already in the overtly prejudiced likes of Britain First, Katie Hopkins and the Yaxley-Lennon fan club clamouring to become part of these ‘new’ Tories. And all this after anyone afflicted with a conscience or any basic rationality like Philip Hammond or Ken Clarke was side-lined from the party.
Then there’s Dominic Cummings, the architect of the Feckless Sex Yeti’s victory and someone who holds no political affiliations himself. Our ‘disruptor-in-chief’ now appears to have untrammelled power to pursue his agenda of undermining institutions; setting his sights on the civil service first. Only chaos can ensue. Consider too the FSY’s old mucker and brother-in-womanising Trump, a man who threatens to draw us into Middle Eastern bloodshed few in Britain will back. Last but not least, there’s that reputation for fiscal probity on the part of the Tories which the Feckless Sex Yeti will inevitably destroy; a hundred billion in cash to be splashed in the March budget alone, and that’s just the beginning. When he became Mayor of London, many speculated the FSY would pursue some kind of extreme, neoconservative agenda, mistakenly believing the things he said on the campaign trail. In fact, all the FSY did for his eight years in charge was to tell people what they wanted to hear while spaffing an obscene amount of money up the wall on vanity projects and architectural eyesores like some kind of demented pharaoh. The total bill to the public was close to a billion by the time he left office, all of it wasted on shit buses, pointless cable cars and non-existent bridges. So much profligacy, TfL still can’t afford new trains on the superannuated Bakerloo Line. The FSY won’t change his modus operandi as Prime Minister. The mountains of cash he has already pledged for short-term fixes and papering over the cracks combined with his talk of a bridge between Ireland and Scotland prove that. If ever there was a leader capable of bankrupting the nation, here he is everyone.
In order to fight this idiotic situation we must look to the example of those who have resisted Trump since 2016, really quite successfully if his ongoing impeachment and current polling numbers are anything to go by. We need to take to social media and wherever else offers us a platform to expose the truth about this government; the lies and corruption in our pathetic Kakistocracy, voted in by that same generation who gave us Thatcher in 1979; an age group still willing to believe perpetual growth is somehow compatible with continuing to live on this planet. Because so many young people have been politicised through recent times and, as in America, they are now demanding a different way of doing politics; for their voices to be heard. That campaigning energy Jeremy Corbyn inspired won’t simply evaporate, even though some may cite the old canard of voters becoming more right-wing as they age. I say this myth has been exposed for the nonsense it is. If you’re a selfish capitalist who has done well for himself, of course you won’t vote in a party that threatens to tax your second home. But how many youngsters from Generation Zed and beyond will ever know that kind of financial success? Without monetary stability from day to day, there's a strictly limited appeal for young voters in the party of the super-rich.
In the final analysis, Boris Johnson is all-too similar to David Cameron, not just in his early ambitions. Most notably, there’s a tendency to bottle it when things get difficult and the job turns out to be less fun than expected. Back in 2015 we thought there would be a full five years of Diddy Dave to endure but he fucked it up then decided to amscray. It isn’t unfeasible that the Feckless Sex Yeti could go the same way, when push comes to shove. As I’ve said before, now isn’t the time to give in to cynicism or despair. Too many vulnerable people need us to fight back for that.
In the final analysis, it's very difficult to tell our children nowadays that ‘cheats never prosper’ when all evidence from our failing political system points to the contrary. The British establishment has always been adept at pissing on our hats then telling us it’s raining; hoping we swallow the predictably feel-good endings of film and TV, narratives where the bad guys never win. If we’re conned into believing this, we may fail to notice as the elites continue to lord over us in perpetuity. But I feel there is a cause for optimism, despite everything. The Feckless Sex Yeti may have won for now, but the battle for our future will always be ongoing. The world tends to leave reactionaries behind eventually and evolution only goes one way, whatever blips we may encounter along the way.
The Gestalt Switch is available here.