I’ve just read Peter Watt’s book “Inside Out”. I read it in just two sittings. It’s been quite a while since I last read a book in such a short period of time. It’s not a long book; round about the same as my favourite Fitzgerald book in length. It’s a good read because it makes you see something you thought you knew in a different way. Probably a completely different way.
Peter Watt has been ghost-written in this tale; but no ghost-writer was ever so true to the necessary mechanics of a story as Isabel Oakeshott. There were no laborious diaries to rely on and the buccaneering flavour of what often plumbs the abyss of personal tragedy is accentuated by such an absence of unnecessary detail.
It reads a bit like a Jeffrey Archer bestseller – and I mean this kindly: in its exhortingly page-turning style, you cannot fail to breathe the roller-coaster atmosphere that a “good versus evil” politics of the tribe inevitably engineers.
I have never met Mr Watt but I do feel, in his manifest self-awareness, in his sometimes painful appreciation of his own foibles, he earns himself the moral right to pass judgement on others who obviously did him a severe disservice.
I am late to his “Inside Out” Labour Party – the book itself was published in 2010 – but through the awful narrative which describes the arc of destruction which the need to generate party-funding on a rolling basis clearly generates, I understand better the actions of people like Tony Blair – accumulating the millions they unhappily do, once out of the financial holes they previously sensed. What drives men and women to work to guarantee their economic independence to such an obscene degree? Perhaps the kind of situations Watt lived for two terribly rough-and-tumble years.
And yet, to his credit, he appears to have recovered a massive attachment to a life of sense and sensibility. It is not right to call it a tragedy, after all – in this piece of literature, the good guy redeems himself a thousandfold. Family, as well as a certain detachment from tribal Labour, allows him to acquire an even keel, even as the ship of an amoral state collapsed around him. That he didn’t go down the route of vengeful politicking – unless, of course, you count this book as an example of his game – is also to his credit, underlining as it does the importance of human relationships in politics.
And this last matter is what I think I will take away with me. Politics is a helter-skelter where the best politicians do invent it as they go along. Yet the very best of them all – the ones who really hit the heights, the ones condemned to ultimate injury and deception – are not only off-the-cuff imagineers of the kind of dreams we would all like to believe, they are also firmly attached to ideas and opinions which only history will ever be able to decide if they finally lead to ennoblement or infamy.
What I like about “Inside Out” is that it tells a terrible tale of a terrible party machine from the point of view of someone who refuses to abandon it. And he even likes to ensure we perceive the evil which spews forth is far more due to an ingrained dysfunctionality of structures than the people themselves.
I begin to wonder if Mr Watt mightn’t deserve – mightn’t even be harbouring thoughts of – a return to a more active role in this tribalism that is the British body politic. But whilst the rest of us might gain, he himself – he and his loved ones – would certainly suffer the consequences.
I really wouldn’t wish it on him – or them – again.
I once came close to real despair in my own working-life, mainly due to the half-lies and half-truths of a highly dysfunctional man. I can appreciate myself, therefore, from very particular experience, what dysfunctionality can achieve; what it can lead to; what it can break.
So for me, this book has connected on two very important levels: ten years ago, when I distrusted my own perceptions and felt the evil breath of helter-skelter. And now, when distrust of what I see and sense is just about the last thing which occurs to me to feel.
In the end, when I put this short book down and reflect, I realise I truly like the man who allows himself to be portrayed in this way.
Fitzgerald’s book wrote it better, of course – but, even so, the words were never more precisely, nor appropriately, said.
For all of us, that is:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further … And one fine morning –
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
To sum up, “Inside Out” has its layers of anger, its layers of pain, its layers of betrayal – its layers of traditional tribalism. But it also has a melancholy acceptance that some things can only be survived, not vanquished.
To not be bitter – or, at least, to know how to contain any remnants of bitterness – is a mighty achievement indeed.
Difficult enough in the disconnected lives of us serfs; almost impossible in stratospheric politics.
Fancy telling us your secret, Peter? Bottle it, brand it – and you never know, there’s a new politics on the horizon.
Even, dare I say, a new Labour!